A peer-support program with time for compassion

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In the sea of fast-moving stretchers and urgent cases that can be found in emergency departments, time is limited and few care providers have the opportunity to stop, listen and sympathize with patients. However, for people living with an addiction or a mental health disorder and for their families and peers, an attentive ear is often crucial in order to get better.

Thanks to Recovery Connections, an innovative mental health program launched in April 2014, Ottawa patients admitted to three different hospital’s mental health units or emergency departments now have access to confidants who not only listen, but also understand what they are going through.

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With the help of the Addictions and Mental Health Network of Champlain, the financial support of Champlain’s Local Health Integration Network and the logistic guidance of Psychiatric Survivors of Ottawa , Recovery Connections was launched as a pilot project in September 2013 at Hôpital Montfort, before being also endorsed by the Queensway Carleton Hospital and The Ottawa Hospital.

The program includes six peers and two family peer supporters, who all have a background in living with mental health problems, whether they personally experienced them or had a member of their entourage who did so. Their life experience allows them to establish a true connection with the patients: hospital staff recalls several patients who finally opened up to them after having initially refused any interaction with the medical team. Recovery Connections’ approach is non-clinical and focuses on support and compassion: the peer supporters do not chart any of their meetings and do not focus on other goals than helping the ones in need. Every day, they travel between the emergency departments and the mental health hospitalization units and make themselves available to the many patients who have lost hope or who need a sympathizing ear.

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Today, Recovery Connections has been extended to family members and is available for the patient’s entourage, who can meet the peer supporters in the same kind of support-oriented approach.

Since its beginnings, the responses to the program have been extremely positive and even led to new community programs being developed, like a young adults group. Additional French resources were also developed to accommodate Ottawa’s French-speaking community. The peer supporters are now an integral part of the three hospitals’ social work teams, and their rate of contacts with patients exceeds by three times the level anticipated at the onset of the program. Thanks to them, compassion found a bigger time slot in hospitals’ busy schedules.

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