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Looking for Ways to Address Behavioral Health in Your Region? Consider a Peer Support Group

There has been a noticeable shift in the world of mental health. People have begun to understand just how widespread mental health issues are, that one’s mental health struggles don’t define them and that everyone needs support sometimes.

When the stigma associated with depression, substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders starts to lift, it’s easier for people to come to terms with their illnesses and seek the help and treatment they need to recover. One way someone might seek help for their behavioral health struggles is through a peer support group.

“Behavioral health struggles can be quite personal, and it’s not always easy or comfortable to reach out for help,” said LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Trustee Michael F. Sabitoni. “However, one benefit of being a LIUNA member is that this organization cares about people as individuals and provides a familial environment, supporting its brothers and sisters through good times and bad.”

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer Michael F. Sabitoni
LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer Michael F. Sabitoni

A peer support group brings together people with similar experiences, illnesses or circumstances to share their struggles, give advice, provide encouragement and foster a sense of safe, trustworthy community. Peer support is valuable because, unlike sympathy you might receive from loved ones, it offers an opportunity to connect with people who truly understand and can relate to what you’re going through.

The best part? Putting together a peer support group requires less effort than you might think, and the LHSFNA has the resources to help. This is something one Local Union in the Northwest Region learned for themselves this past fall.

This past October, the LHSFNA’s Jamie Becker, Health Promotion Director, and Matthew Brown, Health & Welfare Fund Specialist, presented at a training course for LIUNA leaders where they discussed LIUNA Health and Welfare funds. In particular, Jamie touched on the value of health care coverage for treating behavioral health issues, such as mental illness and SUDs. Lori Baumann, a Marketing Representative for LIUNA’s Northwest Regional Organizing Coalition, reached out to Jamie after her presentation. Lori knew there were members of her Local Union struggling with addiction and had the idea to start a peer support group, but wasn’t sure how. That’s where the LHSFNA came in.

“Although I didn’t know the logistics of how to actually start a peer support group, I knew we needed to respond to this request and connect Lori with the resources she needed,” said Jamie. “I reached out to colleagues within the Laborers’ who I knew had done similar work, and within a week, we had assembled a working group.”

The working group is composed of several passionate LIUNA members who are also behavioral health subject matter experts from different regions across LIUNA. They provided information, guidance and best practices based on their own experience. The group helped Lori through the process, including how to gain leadership support, considerations on where to hold meetings and how to advertise the group.

“I’m in a unique position to reach real people who might be struggling and was so moved by the openness and support I received from Jamie and everyone in this group on this request,” said Lori. “Responding with action and service when someone needs help is exactly how I try to live my life, and I’m so grateful we were able to start this peer support group in Portland.”

However, the LHSFNA’s work didn’t stop there; the team decided this information could be useful to other Regions and developed a document on how to start a peer support group from the ground up. The goal is to share this information with others who may be interested in hosting their own support group yet aren’t sure where to start. Next month, we’ll be writing an article that dives deeper into how to start a peer support group and access this resource.

“Starting a peer support group can be a relatively easy, efficient and affordable way to create community and meet people’s needs,” Jamie explained. “The effort discussed here is the epitome of members helping members – a true group effort to assist a sister who reached out for guidance. In the process, we put together information that will hopefully benefit many other LIUNA brothers and sisters too.”

Stories like these are a good reminder that help is available, and LIUNA leaders want to work with you to address the problems you may be facing. If you need any type of support, reach out. Oftentimes, we have the resources to help and if we don’t, we will find them. No one has to suffer alone. For more information, reach out to Jamie Becker.

[Hannah Sabitoni]

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