Young people experience issues of mental health much more than many may realize. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), “Many adolescents experience positive mental health, but an estimated 49.5 percent of adolescents have had a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.” This prevalence of young people struggling with mental health shows how vitally important peer advocates are, and how there is a serious need for more.
What Does It Mean to Be a Peer Advocate?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Peer support workers are people who have been successful in the recovery process who help others experiencing similar situations. Through shared understanding, respect, and mutual empowerment, peer support workers help people become and stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse.” So, to be a peer advocate means to use what was once a major hindrance as a major asset.
Peer advocates also ensure that the cycle of recovery continues for those new to the treatment process. It is similar to a “trickle-down effect.” By advocating for another person struggling, there is a greater chance that they will do the same as they progress in their recovery. This is especially true when it comes to helping the younger generation.
What Does It Mean to Be a Peer Advocate for Young People?
As previously mentioned, nearly 50% of young people will experience some form of mental illness. To perhaps put that in perspective, based on population, that is roughly 21 million adolescents. That is a significant portion of the population that needs and deserve peer advocates.
Now, of course, anyone that takes time to advocate for mental health is always appreciated and important. However, when an individual that has experienced the same struggles becomes a peer advocate it can be particularly effective. That is because they can often relate on a level that only people with “shared experience” can have.
Peer advocates also have a unique opportunity to introduce young people to mental health and addiction recovery communities. These communities can be critical as they can offer advice, understanding, and accountability to adolescents who are struggling. Ultimately, sometimes “it takes a village,” and a recovery community can be like a “village” of peer advocates that have the primary purpose of helping others recover, particularly young people who have an opportunity to recover at a much earlier age.
Age Doesn’t Matter in Peer Advocacy
It is also important to understand that a young person can be a peer advocate for other young people as well. In fact, when young people help their peers, they not only offer “shared experience” with issues of mental health but also with experiencing issues of mental health young.
Young people helping young people in recovery can also be particularly effective because they can often relate in ways that older people may not. For example, younger peer advocates may be able to better understand the current state of mental health and addiction “triggers” among people their age. This includes types of online content, various stressors in school, and certain areas that are best avoided while in recovery. They may also be able to better relate to one another should they engage in a sponsor/sponsee relationship.
The Sponsor/Sponsee Relationship
Now, many people may associate the sponsor/sponsee relationship as something that happens in 12-Step recovery. However, this relationship has expanded beyond the sole realm of addiction recovery.
A peer advocate can act as a mental health sponsor to a newcomer in recovery. As a sponsor, they can ensure that a young person (the sponsee) has a reliable face-to-face resource that they can turn to when they feel like they are struggling or have questions about what comes next in their recovery journey.
A sponsor can also ensure that a young person sticks to their recovery plan so they don’t veer too far off and become more susceptible to relapse. This relationship helps the with necessary accountability that can be critical for successfully managing issues of mental health in the long term.
A History of Addiction Advocacy: The Phoenix Recovery Center
Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we believe in mental health advocacy for all populations. This includes helping young people in need of professional addiction and mental health care.
The prolific novelist, Franz Kafka, once said, “Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” Our goal is to ensure that our clients either gain, regain, or retain that ability; because, whether young or old, we all deserve to see the beauty in life.
For more information on how to get started receiving mental health care today, contact The Phoenix Recovery Center at (801) 438-3185.