Peer support to help residents

01:33, Aug 17 2012

A new centre for New Plymouth residents battling mental health and addiction problems will be staffed with carers who have “walked the walk” themselves.

Workers at Harmony House Te Whare Marire in Whalers Gate, which opens today, are people who themselves have experienced mental health problems or addiction.

Harmony House is the first such "peer-supported" respite centre in the city.

"The message we're trying to get across with this is we've walked the same walk; everyone's story isn't the same but the journey to recovery is,” team leader Karen Wehle said.

“We're not there as counsellors, we're there to let people rest, and families also. It's a place of safety for them.”

Ms Wehle, a trained mental health support worker, said she has had her share of struggles with “mental unwellness”.

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“Having peer support from people who had had their own experience of a mental illness or addiction gave me hope and encouragement rather than service providers who had not experienced it themselves,” she said.

The new centre has three floors and four bedrooms and will cater for anyone aged from 16 to 65.

It will be staffed by a team of about 10 volunteers, most with Witt's Mental Health Support Worker Certificate, and one person will be on duty 24 hours, seven days a week.

Like Minds Taranaki manager Gordon Hudson said he was pleased the project had got off the ground.

“It is a first for Taranaki, putting, as it does, people with personal experience of mental illness at the forefront of ownership and decision making - where it belongs," Mr Hudson said.

“There is an acknowledged real need in Taranaki for peer-led and peer-managed services for people with experience of mental illness.”

Taranaki District Health Board mental health and addiction services support the centre's concept and the Health Ministry had acknowledged the need for it, Mr Hudson said.

Ms Wehle hoped Harmony House would be a benefit to the community as a whole and help reduce prejudice surrounding mental illness.

“I think there's still a lot of stigma and discrimination around mental health, although it is getting better.”

- Nadia Stadnik is a Witt journalism student.

Taranaki Daily News