Category Archives: Uncategorized

Peer Support: Words that Resonate

On October 13, the VCH Consumer Involvement & Initiatives, Peer Support Training Class of  2016-17, celebrated their graduation. Below is a word cloud based on words that resonated for grads and guests when they thought of peer support.

PSW Grad 2016-17 Words that Resonate


Reflections on Belief and Anxiety


By Renea Mohammed

The other day, I was watching a TV series called The Affair. In one of the episodes, a character was asked if he believed in God. He answered that he thought that if someone believes in God, then he has made God real by bringing His presence into the world through his belief. I had never thought of it that way before. I think it validates the notion of faith, though perhaps faith needs no validation.

It also made me think about how we can bring other things into the world through belief. It made me think about anxiety. We can give our fears reality simply through belief. If we imagine something bad, we have made it materialize in our life, if only in our head and heart.

On the flip side though, if we believe in positive things, we also bring their presence into the world. That, I think, is a comforting thought.

Hearing Voices Group Makes a Difference




By Renea Mohammed

I recently spoke to someone who hears voices. She prefers that her name not be used and that she be identified by the pseudonym: West Coast Girl. She was diagnosed with schizencephaly, an extremely rare developmental birth defect characterized by abnormal slits, or clefts, in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain and which, in her case, has lead to the experience of hearing voices – voices that no one else can hear. The voices left her questioning what was real and what was not.

She also felt isolated by the experience and was thrilled to find a group made up of other voice hearers. She told me she was “so happy from the first meeting”. Everything people were saying related to what she was experiencing. She felt a sense of security in the group. She was not alone. People were saying things that “really clicked”.

She learned a new coping strategy: take a problem and put it in a box. Put the box out of reach. Keep it closed. Then, when you are ready, bring it out and deal with it.

She’s also developed her own strategies. She prays to St. Jude, the Patron Saint for impossible situations: the saint to pray to when things just look like they won’t turn out well. When she’s struggling she prays every day for 9 days. She tries to keep her mind focussed on prayer when she is stressed. She tries to get her brain calmed down through the process. She says she does it at bed time and it really helps. It’s the strongest coping tool she’s found so far. When things work out, she gives thanks that the problem was solved.

She’s shared this approach in the group and also heard about how others cope. She looks forward to going. When I asked her if she’d recommend it to someone else, she said she would.

The group West Coast Girl attends is a North Vancouver support group based on the International Hearing Voices Network. Similar groups have sprung up in Vancouver Community and in Tertiary Mental Health Services. The Fraser Health Authority is also looking at starting a group as is Victoria.

The Hearing Voices Movement that lead to the development of Hearing Voices Network Support Groups was begun by Dr. Marius Romme, a professor of social psychiatry, science journalist Dr. Sandra Escher and voice hearer Patsy Hage in 1987 – after Hage challenged Romme about why he couldn’t accept the reality of her voice hearing experience. As one voice hearer, Ron Coleman, has said, if someone is hearing voices, something real is happening. The Hearing Voices Network bean in 1988 with the support of Romme and has since expanded to countries and regions including Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Japan, Israel, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Hearing Voices Groups support people in learning ways to live well with their experiences, share strategies, make connections and know that they are not alone. The reputation of the Hearing Voices Network is growing as the limitations of a solely medical approach to voices become better know.

For information:

About the North Vancouver Hearing Voices Group call: 604-984-5000, extension 5167

About Vancouver Hearing Voices Network Groups call: 604-708-5276

World Suicide Prevention Day Twit Chat, Sept. 10 at 5 pm PST

World Suicide Prevention Day: One World Connected

Wednesday, September 10 at 5pm Pacific time join a special #mhsm tweetchat on self-management and resiliency for suicide prevention in bipolar disorder.

Hosted by Sandra Kiume Dawson of @unsuicide and PsychCentral, a suicide attempt survivor living well with bipolar, in collaboration with participating clinicians, peer researchers, and academics from UBC’s CREST_BD bipolar disorders research group.

All are welcome. A Twitter account is required. To learn how to participate in a tweetchat visit

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Through the Withering Storm – Book Review


Through The Withering Storm

Author  Leif Gregersen

Review by Margo Robinson

 In this book the author describes his preteen and teen years as a gradual descent into a total mental meltdown.

A troubled child living in a troubled home.  His Mother had been hospitalized several times for her mental illness with at times, suicide attempts.

He didn’t get along with his dad, many angry outbursts and rage defined their relationship.

As many of the mentally ill, we are like square pegs trying to fit into a round hole.

Our behaviours often radical and not conforming to societies norms.

Not fitting in, having few if any friends that stuck with him for any length of time, along with the ensuing loneliness, was a catalyst for strange and unacceptable behaviour.

Leif, describes in great detail his school years and early adult life. Many hospitalizations and medications given with advice to keep taking them.

For one reason or another he stops the medications and eventually his perceptions become askew with delusions and hallucinations, resulting in further hospitalizations.

This book may be of some value, a point of identification to the pubescent teen who suffers from loneliness, relationship and behaviour issues. Those living in a dysfunctional home with abuse could relate as well.

The erratic behaviour of a person sliding down that slope, descending into mental deterioration.

It is great to see that eventually, Leif did come through to the other side and has now made a life for himself.  Not only that but helping those around us, the hurting  the helpless and lonely, offering some ray of hope.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen more about how Leif did climb out of the dark place into light. I see that the turning Point came once he accepted the fact he had a mental illness and he needed to take the medicine the rest of his life.  But what then?  What work exactly did he do to get and stay well?

People are not only looking for someone to identify themselves with but also solutions and resources available to help on their journey of recovery.

Peer Support Research: Surveying Your Thoughts



by Seema Shah 

After 15 years, the Vancouver Mental Health & Addiction (VMHA) Peer Support Program is reviewing the past and assessing the present in order to help guide the future.

Thinking     The VMHA Peer Support Program wants to know your thoughts.


In what ways does training to become a Peer Support Worker impact a person’s life?

This is just one question the Vancouver Mental Health and Addiction (VMHA) Peer Support Worker (PSW) Training program would like to answer. To this end, a voluntary, anonymous survey is being conducted with as many PSW Training alumni as possible.


I’m a peer researcher who has been contracted by the program to help develop and conduct the survey, which is being done as a phone interview. Along with quantifiable data, we feel it is important to gather more layered, less tangible information, such as the benefits and challenges related to the PSW training experience.


Having interviewed more than 40 graduates over the past few months has been a very interesting and meaningful experience for me. It’s been wonderful to have such a great response. Thank you so much to those who have taken part in the survey.

So many of the people I’ve interviewed have been enthusiastic about doing the survey and clearly passionate about Peer Support; this, in turn, has given me even more enthusiasm for the project and made the interviewing process very enjoyable.

Feedback from those who have gone through the training is already helping the program to see the bigger picture by providing valuable local information, a deeper understanding of the program’s impact, and ideas for future directions.


If you’re a graduate of the VMHA PSW Training and have not yet done the survey, it’s not too late to have your voice heard. If you are interested in contributing but are unable to do a phone interview, we can mail you a written survey to complete instead.

Please contact me at 604-736-2033 (ext.2239) or if you would like to do the survey. The plan is for all survey data to be collected by the end of September.


Stay tuned for survey result highlights, which will be shared on this blog in the future.

It is extremely important to the VMHA Peer Support Program that the valuable feedback obtained from this study be used to effect real world change. Survey results will continue to be used to guide the future direction of the program. The potential exists for the information to be used in a variety of beneficial ways.


The program may do further research related to Peer Support in the future and we’re interested in knowing what you think. No matter what your relationship is to Peer Support, we’d love to hear your perspective and ideas.


If we have the opportunity to do more Peer Support research, what do you think our priority should be?  What questions would you like to see answered?  Please post your ideas in the comments section – we will read them!

Journaling: Following in the Steps of Great Grandmother


Today’s blog entry is by Amanda Berg, a mental health Peer Support Worker and Coordinator of Peer Led Workshops with Vancouver Mental Health and Addictions Services. One of her recovery tools is journaling. She talks about her approach and about the inspiration she has taken from her great grandmother’s journal. The photo accompanying this article is a photo of that journal.

Journaling: Following in the Steps of Great Grandmother

by Amanda Berg

My great grandmother Ida Nelson was a journal writer.  She was born in 1881 and the first diary I have of hers is from 1917.  It was written in a leather book that is from the Greenbush Bank of Minnesota.  She outlines her everyday life. The weather, washing, ironing, who came to visit.  The writing is simple, boring, and mundane. Most days she washed laundry, baked bread and cooked dinner.  One day she broke her ankle, went to the hospital and had to learn to walk again.  She wrote almost every day, a few lines about the weather, what she did and how she felt in little notebooks.    I opened up a blue leather five year diary with a little lock,   and turned the pages and realized she died after June 23, 1967.  There were no more entries.  And this got me thinking about starting a journal for 2013.

Recording my thoughts on paper has been a powerful tool of recovery for me.  A diary is a friend who is always ready to listen.  My great grandmother’s journals varied from 5 cent notepads to leather bound notebooks with locks turned by tiny keys.  She wrote with a fountain pen and ink bottle and speckles of ink dot some of the pages.

My latest journal was made in China.  It is green vinyl fake leather with a matching elastic band to keep it shut.  It’s about the size of my cellphone and I take them both pretty much everywhere.  I have a big beautiful journal at home I received as a birthday gift but it is too heavy to lug around so I save it for big ideas and short stories.

In the past I wrote on loose leaf paper and stuck the pages in a binder with tab dividers labeled with the month January to December and other dividers marked 1 to 31. At the end of the month I would take every page out and put them in an envelope.  I used this system for a while but found it annoying if I dropped the binder.  Frustration ensued if the binder claws opened up and my paper flew out.

Over time you learn what works for you.  My best technique is cheap notebooks that fit in my purse or pocket.  I start journaling by making something to drink or sit in a coffee shop and start at the page.  I take deep breaths and the important thing is to keep my butt parked in the chair.  I think, “I am going to sit here for five minutes and write.  For five minutes I am not going to move anything except my hands and arm.” 

I pick up my pen and draw an oval shape in the middle of the page.  After pondering a few minutes I think of a word to put in the circle.  I brainstorm and draw lines out of the circle like branches of a tree.  I fill up the page with words.  This is my brainstorming process.  The pen doesn’t leave the page.  If I am stuck I scribble and do calligraphy of a letter until I think of another word.  I can’t do this on a computer.  I write fast.  It is a five minute race for me.  Music, doodling and making scribbles helps get ideas flowing and provides inspiration.  Music helps set the pace so I listen to movie soundtracks.  Right now, Battleship Gallactica is a favourite.    Sometimes, just the sound of a pencil –the graphite sliding on paper is enough to give me an idea.

Messiness isn’t a concern.  Ink flows out of my pen on the page and covers my hand so I prefer pencil.  It is safer and I don’t have to scrub my black fingers after.  I imagine my great grandmother must have washed her hands often after she wrote with Indian ink.

It could be a possibility that my great great granddaughter might one day read my autobiographical scribbling.  And it got me wondering about why I should journal and why I should journal in the same book my great grandmother wrote in and I came up with to inspire myself:

It would keep me on track and give me motivation to write if I had to write every day to see what my grandma was up to.

If she had time to write, I could make time

So I have decided to write in the baby blue leather journal with the broken clasp.  I imagine my Great grandmother Ida would be happy seeing my words beneath hers starting the day after she died.