The first DBSA Peer Awards are the highest honor DBSA gives to members of the: Peer Support Specialist, Veteran Peer Specialist, Peer Specialist Student, and Peer Advocacy communities.

This award recognizes peers and advocates whose work advances the field of peer support by fostering hope and serving as valuable role models for those walking the road to wellness. One award was given in each of the following categories at the 2022 DBSA Summit:

  • DBSA Peer Specialist of the Year
  • DBSA Veteran Peer Specialist of the Year
  • DBSA Peer Specialist Student of the Year
  • DBSA Advocate of the Year

At the 2022 DBSA Summit, DBSA recognized four individuals whose support goes above and beyond. These individuals have served their community in extraordinary ways and have all helped others in recovery to thrive and live in wellness.

Susan Noonan, MD, DBSA Peer Specialist of the Year

Susan Noonan, MD, exemplifies how someone who lives with a mood condition can thrive through commitment, compassion, knowledge, and desire to share her lived experience with others. She has shared this knowledge as the author of two books for peers and caregivers. Her extensive volunteer and consulting expertise include working with the Maxwell V. Blum Cancer Resource Room of The Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital.

Vail Smith, USMC, DBSA Veteran Peer Specialist of the Year

Vail creates safe spaces for other Veterans, listens, and connects to them. He is a pillar within Chicagoland’s Veteran community. Vail provides hope and stability to many of our nation’s heroes still searching to find their way. He has overcome homelessness and uses his background to make a difference in his work. He testified before Congress as an example of someone who benefitted from the power of Peer Support and encouraged them to ensure other Veterans have that same opportunity. Vail is an instructor for the DBSA Veteran Peer Specialist Course and mentors peers in the Peer Specialist Apprentice Program. His strong values and compassionate way of relating to others impact future Veteran peer specialists around the country. Vail dedicates this award to his daughter, Sydney, who is going through her own mental health journey. He loves her with all his heart.

Bert Patania, M.Ed., CADC, DBSA Peer Specialist Student of the Year

Bert’s client-directed work with high-risk youth and families in Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs demonstrates his commitment to creating thriving lives. He also diligently educates parents on dealing with the challenges of substance use and mental disorders among children. DBSA is grateful for his work serving Veterans at the Hines Veteran Health Center in Maywood, Illinois, and for participating in our first Peer Support Specialist course. His perspective has helped our instructors to remain closely connected to the student experience and influenced the curriculum as it has evolved and improved. His insights will impact future students and course instructors for years to come.

Kimberly Allen, LCDC, DBSA’s Peer Advocate of the Year

As a global mental health advocate, Kimberly has worked tirelessly to bring the peer perspective to the forefront of public policy. As chair of the DBSA Texas Grassroots Organization, she worked to ensure mental health reform in Texas. Sharing her perspective with mental health researchers has led to her authorship of several papers published in well-respected, peer-reviewed journals on topics promoting peer support and wellness for people living with mood disorders.

Kimberly has mentored peers while serving as a Council Member for the Healthy Brains Global Initiative. Adolescents worldwide will benefit from a better understanding of the needs and research priorities to address depression and anxiety in young people based on her work.

Please join us in congratulating our winners.