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Peers encouraging wellness as members of mental health unit team

Toronto, October 10, 2016

By Evelyne Jhung

Bryan Marshall and Anne Borrelly admire therapeutic plants
Bryan Marshall and Anne Borrelly, peer support workers on the Inpatient Mental Health Unit, admire therapeutic plants, such as lavender and sage, which they help their clients grow in the unit’s courtyard. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

A stock broker living the fast life in France and Luxembourg. A sales and marketing associate turned research assistant. Those two lives were traded in long ago and now Anne Borrelly and Bryan Marshall serve coffee and hand out the morning papers as part of their duties as St. Michael’s first two peer support workers on the Inpatient Mental Health Unit.

“It’s been 16 years of my own journey of recovery from addiction and mental health issues and I really wanted to work with people I could relate to and help, and keep growing along that path,” said Marshall, a former research assistant with St. Michael’s CRICH, now called the Centre for Urban Health Solutions.

Similarly, Borrelly’s goal was to work on an inpatient unit because she felt that a peer support worker – someone with lived experience – could make a real difference as she didn’t have one herself when she was recovering from a bipolar diagnosis.

“In a short time with us, Bryan and Anne have become valued members of the team, contributing greatly to our positive therapeutic environment,” said Dr. Shelley Brook, a psychiatrist on the unit. “Patients find it comforting to have people with ‘lived experience’ available for support and inspiration.”

As members of the interprofessional team, Marshall and Borrelly participate in rounds and with helping patients heal. They always start off the day with real (i.e. caffeinated) coffee and the papers with their clients. From there, the day could involve taking someone out to help them get a bank card or navigate Ontario Works online, running a mindfulness workshop or going for a tour of Covenant House if that’s where they’re moving next. The goal is to help ease their re-integration back into society.

   
“We are not the first program at St. Michael’s to incorporate Peer Support, but we are the only inpatient unit that we know of to do so. The vision was to bring an enhanced source of support to our patients –by having people on staff who have lived experience with mental health challenges and recovery. What we have found, is that our peer support workers are also educators, advocates and leaders in patient-centred care in our program.”
- Sarah Beneteau, team lead, 17 Cardinal Carter Wing

“We work with a great, compassionate and caring team, but one of the luxuries the peers have is time,” said Borrelly. “We’re able to play chess, paint with them or just talk if that’s what they want. It’s about building trust.”

The peer support workers self-disclose their experiences when they think it would be helpful.

“Some people want to hear my story and I can say, ‘I’ve been through this too’,” said Marshall.

Borrelly agreed and said that if clients have someone who comes from a place of mutual understanding, they’re not just listening to a medical story but to a humanistic story.

“You have value, you’re not just a diagnosis.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.