For individuals battling addiction, the availability of peer support could mean the difference between overcoming the addiction, relapsing, and possibly even death.
The Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County recognizes this peer support as an integral part of the recovery process and currently employs nine full-time recovery coaches, including one full-time Latino recovery coach, to provide help and support to the men and women in their program.
“All of our recovery coaches are individuals who have lived experiences of mental health and addiction recovery,” said Kia Narraway, Mental Health Association executive director and recovery coach trainer. “We meet with individuals at all readiness levels from all different places.”
The Mental Health Association has a contact with many local facilities that refer an individual to their program. Referrals come from treatment courts, community resources, local churches and non-profits, as well as, the individual themselves, or their family members.
“There is a lot of fear surrounding what comes next and we try to educate them on what it is they might go through, whether that is a rehab stay or a detox process,” Narraway said.
She stresses that the most important part of the recovery process is promoting healthy living and that recovery coaches work with individuals to set self-sufficient goals that they wish to accomplish during their time in the program. For many, those goals may include continuing their education, obtaining and maintaining employment, securing permanent housing, and increasing visitation with their children or regaining custody.
According to Rick Huber, Mental Health Association chief executive officer, one of the bigger barriers they see with individuals who want to get help in their program, is what happens to their children. The typical participant in their program is a middle class, white female in her mid-twenties with two children.
“If their children are taken by Child Protective Services (due to a parent’s drug use), they have 365 days to get better before their children are put up for adoption. Heroin, for example, takes more time than that to recover from,” Huber said.
In addition to one on one time with coaches, the Mental Health Association offers many group classes for men and women to come in and talk with others, with some of those classes geared toward family well-being.
“(Being a recovery coach) really needs to be a calling,” Huber said. “It’s not something for the faint of heart. We are on call, 24/7. It is not a 9-5 job, where you can just go home and people won’t get sick and won’t need help. It can’t be. Often times, I’ll get a phone call at 3 a.m. from a worried parent who got my phone number from a police officer, and you just go.”
In addition to relating to participants though their own life experiences, recovery coaches must complete thirteen core competent classes though the Academy of Peer Services to become certified. Following their certification from the New York State Peer Specialist certification board, they must also adhere to the strict boundaries and Code of Ethics contract established by the board.
A grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation’s Fund for the Region was awarded to the Mental Health Association to hire an additional full-time recovery coach for 2016.
“Individuals who are battling an addiction need to know they have their community’s support behind them. We are seeing far too many of our young people, who have bright futures ahead of them, succumbing to this awful disease,” said Randy Sweeney, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation executive director. “It needs to stop, and the Community Foundation is encouraged by the work our Mental Health Association is doing with their recovery coach program, to do that.
In 2015, 150 individuals worked with a recovery coach. Of those 150, 50 achieved a self-sufficient goal, 36 gained safe and stable housing, 36 gained or maintained employment and 14 enrolled in college or GED classes.
“When individuals have a recovery coach, helping them daily, encouraging them, it helps them stay focused and on track towards recovery,” Narraway said.
In Chautauqua County, 56 individuals died as a result of an overdose from 2004 to 2013.
“In the last three years, the people who have used our coaching services, have not suffered an overdose,” Huber said. “That is an incredible statistic for us.”
For more information on the Mental Health Association, and the programs they offer, visit mhachautauqua.org, or call 661-9044. All services and programs are offered free of charge.