Our Hospital, Our StoriesMore Than a Mile in Their Shoes

Posted on: Mar 03, 2020

For those facing mental health or addiction, it can be tough to ask for help, but when they do patients must know there is someone there who can say I know what you are going through and I am here for you. Donors to the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation

Lauralee, Peer Support Worker, Addiction and Mental Health Access 24/7 clinic

"You are not alone."

This statement is the most crucial message peer support worker Lauralee shares with the patients she supports at the Addiction and Mental Health Access 24/7 clinic located at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

"For those facing mental health or addiction, it can be tough to ask for help, but when they do patients must know there is someone there who can say I know what you are going through and I am here for you," said Lauralee, Peer Support Worker at Access 24/7.

Lauralee's work as a peer support worker is important. Patients take great comfort in speaking with someone whom they feel they can be open, based on a shared understanding, free of judgement. Care from a peer helps to overcome emotional barriers that prevent people from engaging with support in the first place. They draw on their lived experience, rather than clinical training, to build connections with individuals.

As a third-generation residential school survivor, who also experienced abuse and addiction, Lauralee has walked more than a mile in her patients' shoes. When individuals walk into the clinic, she understands the difficulties they are facing because she has been there.

"I get it; I understand what patients are going through. I remember the feeling of being alone and I can help them feel confident that they have taken the correct first step by asking for help."

Being a peer support worker looks different every day. Lauralee typically meets clients for the first time in the waiting room of Access 24/7. Often Lauralee makes herself available there to welcome people and provide a warm first point of contact. She asks them about their day, what's going on in their life, and praises them for making it into the clinic that day.

Often Lauralee is asked to participate at later stages during the visit when they feel peer support would improve someone's experience.

"If someone is struggling during a visit I will be asked to join them. I'll ask if they'd like to talk, or if they'd like to wait with me in another room until they're able to see a mental health therapist or doctor."

Lauralee also offers to sit with clients during their therapist appointments if it provides them with comfort. Even though Lauralee is not a close friend or family member, she finds it makes patients feel better knowing they don't have to be alone and that someone who has been where they are is on their side.

"When patients are in a difficult place and not doing well, it can be intimidating to see a professional because it feels like there's a power differential."

For those who call Access 24/7 looking for support and speak to a mental health therapist, the team may determine a peer support worker needs to be involved in the care as well. Lauralee then arranges to meet them at their home, or for coffee somewhere in the community.

From there, she speaks to them and begins to build a relationship. She helps them identify goals and suggests resources or strategies in order to take one step at a time toward wellness.

"We use supportive listening, guidance, and coping strategies to help the clients work through their emotions while being out in the community.

Earlier this year, Lauralee spent time with a client who had difficulty leaving the house. She scheduled a time to go for walks around the neighbourhood, or just stepping a few feet outside their door. Gradually they moved on to take a taxi to a doctor's appointment together. The day she was scheduled to take a bus trip with her client, they called and let her know they managed a journey by themselves. This kind of progress is what drives Lauralee's work.

"It's gratifying to see someone start at a point in their life where they feel that there's no hope, and then to see them make significant strides to rejoin their community in a positive way is wonderful."

When Lauralee thinks back to her struggles, she acknowledges that having a peer like her around would have made her recovery a lot easier.

"There are moments when you feel like you're sitting at the bottom of skid row in a black hole. You have no one. You may have friends, or family that talk to you, but they don't truly understand, and you feel alone. It would have been helpful for someone to have sat with me and said 'Look, I know this is where you're at, I know it sucks, I know it feels like you're never going to get out. But I'm here to hold your hand. Let's do this.'"

Whether as a hand to hold, a cheerleader, advocate, or friend, Lauralee is ready to help individuals gain their confidence, and find their way to recovery. Though her time with a client may occur over a short time, their relationship has a long-term impact.