Mental Health Advocates Share Their Lived Experience with Congressional Staffers

Denise Camp

Denise Camp, ALWF, CPRS, RPS, and Mindy Goodman, Parent Volunteer

Peer support received a big boost from the last U.S. Congress and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) took the opportunity to thank Congressional supporters at a recent U.S. House Mental Health Caucus panel event. Held as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, “Peer Support Across Generations” was supported by Representatives Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).

Peer support, an evidence-based approach, has been proven to provide better outcomes when peer specialists are integrated as part of the mental health care team. Questions asked by the audience, however, showed that while those in attendance were supportive, we have a long way to go educating both the public and policy decision makers on the role of the peer specialist and how those services improve outcomes for the individual receiving care.

114th Congress recognized value of peer support
Because of the wins in the last Congress, the law now requires that individuals with lived experience, a peer specialist, and a family member be appointed to the new Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC). The importance of the ISMICC is underscored with the requirement that the Secretaries, Administrator and Commissioner of ten regulatory agencies also serve on the committee. Panel moderator Phyllis Foxworth, Advocacy Vice President for DBSA, shared the importance of implementing this law as a way to increase awareness on the value of peer support services.

Peers helping peers
Additional panelists spoke about their experiences as a certified peer specialist and a peer supporter. Denise Camp, ALWF, CPRS, RPS, shared about her own pathway to wellness living with a mental health condition and how that journey informs her work as a peer specialist. Ms. Camp serves as the Training Specialist for On Our Own of Maryland, Inc. She shared how one of those programs—the Empowerment Partnership Project utilizes peer specialists. This project helps transform the lives of people living with mental health conditions through workshops that provide clients opportunities to learn about the many facets of recovery, sustain hope, and further the adoption of the recovery paradigm. Peer specialists employed with this program deliver training workshops on both wellness and employment strategies.

Mindy Goodman, a parent volunteer for the DBSA Balanced Mind Parent Network (BMPN), emphasized the value of supporting family members. BMPN is a family-focused online support community that guides families raising children with mood disorders to the answers, support, and stability they seek.

Ms. Goodman shared that she discovered BMPN seven years ago. She kept asking the child psychiatrist who was treating her child to put her in touch with other parents so that she could get support and exchange ideas. When this did not materialize she went online to seek resources and found BMPN. As an active participant, she learned about evidence-based treatment options and was encouraged to use resources such as her public library to learn more. Today she is a group moderator, giving back. Ms. Goodman stated that what she puts out, she receives back ten-fold.

Supporting TAYs
All of the panelists encouraged the Congressional staffers attending the event to consider the importance of supporting transitional age youth (TAY) though special programs for youth as well as their parents. Ms. Goodman acknowledged that her support needs changed as her children transitioned from adolescent to adulthood. Not only do the legal realities of adulthood change how much involvement is possible in a child’s care, but the emotional changes require that a child accept more personal responsibility for their condition. Having eleven different online communities, including one for parents of TAYs, was invaluable, according to Ms. Goodman.

Ms. Camp reported that, fortunately, the philosophy of peer support embraces and acknowledges that different populations need peer support services tailored for that community. On Our Own Maryland has a separate program for TAYs and employs age-appropriate peers to implement the program.

Advocacy matters
The final messages of the event were directed to the audience. The country needs evidence-based options that not only produce better outcomes but provide value. Ms. Foxworth shared that she is encouraged that, for the first time, national legislation includes the language “peer support” and “peer specialists,” but this is only the beginning. Next up: full implementation of the mental health reforms in the 21st Century Cures Act. To learn more about the mental health reforms in this Act read a summary from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


Denise Camp ALWF, CPRS, RPS, Project Coordinator, Training Specialist, On Our Own of Maryland
Ms. Camp is a certified peer specialist who also earned a bachelors in bio medical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Ms. Camp uses her own lived experience to advocate, educate and train individuals living with behavioral health issues. She is employed at On Our Own in Maryland as the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Coordinator and Training Specialist. Ms. Camp has created and managed multiple programs per government regulatory standards and has led numerous projects including development on peer support standards/curricula at both the state and national level.

Mindy Goodman, Parent Advocate
Mindy Goodman lives in Maryland and is a parent volunteer for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Balanced Mind Parents’ Network. In this capacity she provides peer support to parents who have children living with mood disorders. Mindy has three children and works as certified parent coach and a therapeutic independent educational consultant. No stranger to Capitol Hill, she has advocated with the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. In addition to serving as a parent volunteer with the Balanced Mind Parents’ Network, she leads a NATSAP group.

Your Turn

  • What role should peer specialists and peer supporters play in the delivery of mental health care?
  • How should we fund these services?

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