Lucy Ingram

DBSA celebrates peer specialists like Lucy who support people as they navigate their wellness journeys.

My Journey As a Peer Specialist

My journey as a peer specialist started five years ago when I attended DBSA’s Core Peer Specialist Training in Chicago. Looking back, I never knew all the places this journey would take me. I decided to become a peer specialist because I wanted to use my experience living with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD to support others on their path to wellness.

I did not want other people to feel alone or unsupported in navigating a mental health condition. I wanted to be able to support others in developing a voice in their treatment process and becoming their own advocate. I knew what it felt like to feel totally alone and what a difference talking to someone who had “been there” had made in my life. I wanted to develop the skills to be able to take my personal passion for supporting others―and make it my profession.

At training, I found myself surrounded by others who were passionate and committed to supporting others and advocating for change. Over the course of the training, I learned and developed the skills necessary to do peer specialist work. I also learned about myself and what it means to be part of the peer community. During the training, we shared our experiences and I was amazed by the strength, resilience, kindness, and positivity that filled the room. Each of us had overcome different challenges and taken different paths to wellness, but were joined by a shared commitment to use our experiences to support others and build community. I left the training equipped with the skills to be a peer specialist, but I also left with something I hadn’t expected: a new community. I realized that becoming a peer specialist was not just leading me to incredibly meaningful, impactful work in the mental health field―I now had the opportunity to become part of the peer movement.

Over the last five years, I have used my peer specialist certification to provide peer support in a diverse array of settings. I have worked at a community mental health agency; at a health insurance company; at a residential program for young adults; and at a peer-run resource center.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my recovery story through NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program, facilitate classes on wellness, and get involved in community advocacy around mental health issues at a grassroots level. Along the way, I have met leaders in my community and in the peer community, who would become professional and personal mentors and broaden my understanding of mental wellness and recovery. Most importantly, working as a peer specialist, I have had the honor of providing peer support to people as they navigate their own wellness journey. Each of these relationships has been meaningful beyond measure, and it will never cease to be a privilege for someone to allow me to be a part of their lives and recovery, even for a moment. 

Looking back to my sophomore year of college, when I was first diagnosed, I distinctly remember how alone, scared, and isolated I felt. These feelings were more painful and predominant than the symptoms themselves. I was so ashamed of how I was feeling that I would cry in the shower so that no one on my residence hall would hear me; I did not want anyone to know that anything was wrong. While I was clearly experience symptoms of depression and mania, I did not know what was wrong or where I could go to seek help. When I finally did get the help I needed, it was a relief, but also a burden: this was not where I expected my life to go.

I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to take these experiences and challenges and utilize them to support others. In the process of joining the peer support community, I have been able to accept myself for more than my diagnosis. I am no longer my illness, I am Lucy. My diagnosis is just one part of the colorful tapestry of who I am, and who I hope to be. For me, that is the essence of peer support, and why peer specialist work is invaluable. It can turn fear into hope, isolation into community, and can allow us all to come together to ensure that no one suffers in silence, if we all extend a helping hand.

If you too are interested in learning more about becoming a peer specialist, contact Training@DBSAlliance.org or (312) 988-1164.