Linda Meyer begins her peer support sessions by breaking down barriers of her patients in recovery.
“We start with a comfort agreement, saying we’re all equal and we’re in a no-judgment zone,” she says. That sets the expectation for the groups.
As a certified peer specialist and coordinator in Philadelphia-based Einstein Medical Center's behavioral health outpatient recovery resource center, Meyer helps patients through their journeys with individual mental health issues. She offers an eight-week workshop every three months, during which she facilitates her peers in developing personalized action plans designed to help them manage their conditions.
What makes Meyer uniquely qualified to help these patients? She’s been there. Slightly more than 10 years ago, she fell into an unexpected and deep depression. Happily married to her teenage sweetheart and mother to their seven children in their New Jersey home, she couldn’t recognize what was happening and had nowhere to turn.
Her condition led to numerous suicide attempts and a five-year battle navigating the behavioral health system. It became a never-ending roller-coaster ride. “I struggled greatly to find help — there’s no support in getting better,” she says.
Ultimately, Meyer tallied more than 27 psychiatric hospitalizations before being diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorders — a “breakthrough,” she says.
An estimated one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. And approximately one in 25 adults in the U.S. experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with major life activities, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
And one of the biggest obstacles for those struggling to find help is the negative stigma associated with mental illness, says David Greenspan, M.D., chair of the department of psychiatry, Einstein Medical Center. And that’s why the power of peer support and the visibility of someone like Meyer is so crucial, he says.
“Many folks cannot recover as fully as they would want, and we don’t see that because it’s hidden,” he says. “One of her great powers is that she isn’t hidden, and she can say, ‘I was there … just like you are there.’”
During her struggle, Meyer created her own crisis plan that she unknowingly drew from the tenets of WRAP — Wellness Recovery Action Plan. WRAP is a self-designed prevention and overall wellness process that is tailored to each individual. The program is used across the behavioral health spectrum and in many hospitals and clinics.
Meyer became a certified peer training specialist and a certified WRAP facilitator, and has been helping patients in Einstein’s recovery resource center part-time for five years.
During her workshops, Meyer and the group go through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's eight dimensions of wellness, and together the groups develop personalized WRAP transformation plans. In the five years she’s been offering the workshop, nobody who has attended has gone back into a hospital for inpatient psychiatric treatment, she says.
Mary Beth Quinn Boulden, clinic coordinator of outpatient psychiatry at Einstein Medical Center, has been working as Meyer’s manager in the recovery resource center for four years and she says having Meyer has been “an absolute blessing.”
“You’re suffering from depression and you have a bright person with energy and it instills a lot of hope,” Boulden says. “She changed her whole attitude about herself and her illness. It’s a transformation process; that’s what recovery is about.”
About two years ago, Meyer opened The Support Place Where HOPE Lives, a wellness transformation center in Brick, N.J. There she continues to help individuals discover their strengths and provide help where the mental health system cannot.
“I always remember what my psychiatrist told me. He said, ‘You are a teachable moment to everyone,’” Meyer says. “Whether it’s a person struggling, looking for hope or clinicians who are still learning for themselves — I give them hope because I represent what works.”