From July 8-11, 2019, peers from across the United States and around the world gathered at the Alternatives Conference in Washington DC to share their lived experience and celebrate their wellness. Beginning in 1985, the Alternatives Conference grew from the roots of the Psychiatric Survivors movement and is the oldest peer-run mental health conference in the US. Jules Plumadore and Zakiya Johnson, both PEERS staff and members of POCC, represented Alameda County at this year’s conference.

This year’s theme of Standing Together, Celebrating Our Gifts, Raising Our Voices was relevant and meaningful for the peers who attended, many of whom travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to the Catholic University of America campus where the conference took place.

The week started off with an advocacy workshop, which was only slightly dampened by the flash floods that raged through DC that day. Over 3 inches of rain fell in 2 hours; but that didn’t stop the peers who attended from discussing national mental health policy priorities and practicing their advocacy skills. They were able to put those skills into action the next day during Hill Day by visiting their congressional representatives; Jules and Zakiya met with staffers for Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Barbara Lee to discuss legislative issues that affect people with mental health challenges, as well as the positive impact that PEERS and POCC are having on community mental health in Alameda County.

On July 10-11, the conference kicked into high gear with a variety of workshops covering everything from mental health social justice to peer workforce development to innovative wellness supports. Keynote highlights included Celia Brown of the Office of Consumer Affairs at the New York State Office of Mental Health; Caroline Mazel-Carlton of the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community; and John Herold of Puget Sound Hearing Voices. Each speaker shared their own lived experience in a way that was motivating and empowering to other peers.

The 2019 Alternatives Conference may be over, but the coordinators are already thinking ahead to next year and looking for volunteers to join their team. If you’re interested in helping to organize the next Alternatives Conference, please contact the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery for more information: https://www.ncmhr.org/index.htm