The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Henry Takes on Role in Peer Support

 

April 10, 2019

Courtesy Photo / For the Courier

Bruce Petersen (l) poses with Heather Henry (c) and Jim Hajny (r). Henry has recently taken on the job of peer support / recovery coach in Northeast Montana.

Nonprofit group Montana's Peer Network has launched a program in Northeast Montana in affiliation with the Eastern Montana Community Mental Health Center in Glasgow. Taking on the role of peer support specialist / recovery coach will be Glasgow resident Heather Henry. The program is funded by the Montana legislature and is entirely free to participants.

Henry sat down with the Courier alongside Montana Peer Networks founder Jim Hajny to discuss the program and the impacts it hopes to have on substance abuse in Northeast Montana. Peer support is not intended to replace professional care by a mental health provider, but rather is supposed to facilitate access to support from people who have shared similar experiences with substance abuse, mental health and so on.

According to Hajny, the system was designed to provide a peer support network to assist people with any number of issues, such as substance abuse, mental health or even trauma, based on the lived experiences of the peer support specialist.

"We're listening, guiding them to resources, support, treatment. It kind of depends on what they need or what they want," explained Hajny. Henry followed that up with how much of what she does is offering support and advice to people who have shared similar experiences in the past.

"It's a matter of trying to be able to relate to them," said Henry. "I'm just able to say I get it."

The costs are paid for through Eastern Montana Mental Health so none of the services cost anything to the people who use the service. "They don't have to come in, they don't have to do evaluations, there is not this big long process that they have to go through," said Henry. "They can come in and have a quick visit and not have to worry about insurance or paperwork."

The two peer supporters said that many of the people they work with are in the early stages of their recovery and that they are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace mental health providers. Henry said oftentimes she encourages many of the people she works with to seek out those treatments as well.

"So I work with everybody else," said Henry. "It's not intended to be in place of anything."

Hajny followed up the notion stating, "Peer support is really a prevention tool for the community. To begin addressing these issues that often go unaddressed until it's too late. They're arrested, they're in crisis mode, it can be very severe. If peer support is referred in the beginning then your connecting people to recovery resources and the professional resources so that your not dealing with a person now who's, you know, hurting themselves or someone else or can't keep their job because they're dealing with addiction. So, it's really a preventative program."

The team addressed the ongoing effort to implement peer support across the state. Currently there are 100 peer support specialists in Montana, but outside of Billings only five exist in Eastern Montana, located in Glasgow, Plentywood, Sidney, Glendive and Miles City. The model of peer support is not new to the nation, but it is only recently getting off the ground in Montana.

According to Henry and Hajny, the program requires that peer support specialist applicants be two years in recovery, have a clinical supervisor, conduct 40 hours of peer support, pass a background and fingerprint check and work in the community in a paid position. That means Henry can move fluidly throughout the community, help people in their homes or out of town, and be able to relate to and share part of her experience with the people seeking her care.

Henry stated that thanks to her 40 hours of training she was able to learn about a number of different recovery models outside the standard Alcoholics Anonymous found in Glasgow. "I feel like staying sober is one thing," said Henry, "but then you have all this other stuff that is not being dealt with." She cited social lives, employment and wellness as essential parts of a successful recovery that she tries to support those seeking her help in understanding and accomplishing.

Henry's sobriety story started when she got help for alcoholism over a decade ago. Coupled with her addiction was anxiety, depression and self-harm, but she found sobriety in 2008 in Sidney, Mont. before getting on the steps in Alcoholics Anonymous in Glasgow.

She shared personally how being in recovery and running her own business (she owns Cheveux Salon) made her anxious that her clients would discover she was an alcoholic and hold it against her. She highlighted the episode as an example of how stigma surrounding mental health and addiction can harm peoples' openness to discuss mental health and seek help.

Right now Henry said her goals are to continue spreading awareness about her services, develop relationships with community leaders, law enforcement and the detention center to refer people to her when they are in need of assistance or just in need of guidance. Henry said that anyone can refer somebody to her, but that people should be certain that somebody is interested in her help before giving her their name.

"I'm just running with it," said Henry. "However many people I can help I'm happy with."

Henry lauded the relationship she has been able to develop with the Valley County Sheriff Tom Boyer. In response to her working well with law enforcement Henry responded, "Absolutely, law enforcement, Sheriff's Office, PD, hospital have been some of the greatest supporters of this. Tom Boyer has been incredible along with the County Commissioners."

"Law enforcement is really the key," added Hajny. "When we started this model in Gallatin County, we learned right of the bat that the sheriff is really kind of the spearhead when you talk about mental health or behavioral health issues in a community because law enforcement is typically who encounters people first[...] They often have a sense of who are the people who are struggling in the community. So, making that connection is really key to success."

Henry said the community in Valley County has been supportive of the program. "I think that everybody knows that we really do need something like this here," said Henry. "I mean they're not oblivious to the lack of mental health availability in northeastern Montana."

Henry said the best way to refer is to just ask somebody to reach out the her. They can call her at 406-263-7625. For more on Montana Peer Networks go to http://www.mtpeernetwork.org.

 

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