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Articulated is a collection of articles related to mental health, published periodically, that include news, thought, opinion, and stories of mental health recovery. 

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The Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network joins our many friends and allies in congratulating the Georgia Council for Recovery (GC4R, known until recently as the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse) and its board of directors on the selection of Laurisa Guerrero as the Council’s new Executive Director, to assume her new role upon the retirement of Neil Campbell in 2023. Neil's retirement, which had been planned for some time by the GC4R (and dreamed of an even longer time by Neil), was nonetheless announced at a somewhat uncertain time, -after the death of GMHCN's own Sherry Jenkins Tucker, nearly concurrent with the retirement announcement and actual retirement of DBHDD Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald, and in the middle of the years-long legislative process of building out the mechanics of the Mental Health Parity Act, a task akin to building a pocket watch the size of a Ferris wheel, with intricate and delicate parts, none larger than a walnut.

According to Chris Johnson, GMHCN’s Director of Communication and Interim Executive Director, the news could not have come at a better time, saying “With so many recent changes in Georgia’s behavioral health landscape—not even considering COVID and its continuing impact on all of us—it is deeply reassuring to see GC4R make the choice for Neil’s successor that so many of us hoped for. I was fortunate enough to start working for Neil at the Council in January 2016, the same time as Laurisa, and in the same office. We were in the middle of the State’s Recovery-Focused Transformation rollout, and it was just a very special time. There were around nine of us working at the Council then, and we had the opportunity to get to know each other incredibly well. And I’m so glad we did, because I can say without reservation or qualification that Laurisa is the perfect person going into the perfect position at the perfect time. Laurisa makes decisions that are data-driven but informed by common sense, intuition, care for others, love of recovery, her lived experience, and what she hears-because Laurisa truly listens. Listening is a skill we are all trained in as Certified Peer Specialists, but few use it as well or with as much intent, retention, and purpose as Laurisa. Back in 2015, few of us (except Neil) foresaw the potential of the field of recovery. Even now, recovery is in its nascent stages—as a profession, in academia, as a way of life—and choosing Laurisa to nurture and grow Georgia’s recovery communities was a gift to us all, and to Georgia’s future. Rarely has anyone been so perfectly poised for achievement as Laurisa is today. I look forward to continuing Neil and Sherry’s great work with her, both personally and in my capacity at GMHCN, and in discovering what she has planned next for Georgia, and how we can work together to achieve it”

Read the press release announcing Laurisa’s appointment here:  https://gasubstanceabuse.org/laurisa-guerrero-named-executive-director-georgia-council-for-recovery/

Elevating Language: A New Approach to Behavioral Health Advocacy

When GMHCN introduced a Recovery Message Training focused on mental health into the Certified Peer Specialist Project training, we received a lot of incredibly positive feedback. People reported feeling empowered through the process, and we learned through their experience how much opportunity there is for strengths-based language to be more purposefully included in the lives of all of Georgia’s peers.

The result is “Elevating Language,” a 6-hour 360-degree experience of behavioral health language including its history, its power, and its potential. Participants leave the training not only with an advocacy tool to use in their communities, but also a deep understanding of how language can be used to decrease or increase both stigma and self-stigma.

When GMHCN’s Roslind Hayes, CPS-MH, CARES, and Chris Johnson, CPS-MH, CPS-AD, began developing the training, they decided to start from scratch and dig deeply into the history and research of how language and self-disclosure have been and can be used most effectively. In addition to William White’s landmark works on substance use advocacy, they explored the work of Patrick Corrigan, John Divodio, and Samuel Gaertner, the evolution of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and the legacy of civil rights and human rights movements, to create a training that would build from historical precedents to create a forward-looking and adaptable advocacy model.

 

A modified version of the training was provided online through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Mental Health Technology Transfer Center in May of 2020 that was tailored to empower participants to respond to portrayals of behavioral health in COVID-19 media coverage and to advocate for behavioral health resources as agencies and organizations across the country begin responding to and anticipating budget cuts.

The full “Elevating Language” training will be provided online to Georgia’s Certified Peer Specialists in a series of webinars in June 2020. According to Roslind, “We think it is important for everyone to periodically do a review of how they describe and define themselves and others. This is particularly true for Certified Peer Specialists working in clinical settings. It is natural to fall into using the same clinical language that coworkers use—frequently the language of diagnoses, of deficits, of symptoms. Participation in this training reminds us that we need to be both intentional and vigilant about the language we use.

 

When Certified Peer Specialists use strengths-based and recovery-focused language in their work, they are not just providing a model of language for peers, but also for their colleagues. When we use the language of disease and illness, we risk being the evidence of disease and illness. When we use the language of recovery and wellness, we become the evidence of recovery and wellness.”

For information on hosting or participating in an Elevating Language training, please email language@gmhcn.org.

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Ed. Note: Since this article was first printed in June 2020 (2020 Volume 4 of The Pipeline), over 1,100 people have been trained in Elevating Language, including some who have chosen to go through it more than once: As one participant explained, "I was so overwhelmed by the concept the first time, I couldn't really focus on which message, which words, would work. When I went back through, I was ready."

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TUCKER, Georgia – August 11, 2022 – Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) announced today Dawn A. Randolph, MPA will be joining the organization as Chief Financial and Revenue Officer.  Dawn comes to the Network from her long career in public administration and policy in the fields of healthcare, mental health, and substance use disorders.  In her new role, Randolph will lead the Network’s financial and grant management as well as revenue generation for the organization.

 

Judy Fitzgerald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) offered her welcome by stating, “DBHDD welcomes the arrival of Dawn Randolph, whose breadth and depth of experience comes at an important time for GMHCN. The sudden passing of a great leader in the field can be unsettling, but Sherry’s legacy is the resiliency and strength of the peer movement in Georgia. We are excited to know that this important organization can navigate challenging times with a skilled leader as part of the management team while the search for a new Executive Director is underway.”

 

Dawn A. Randolph has been the chief executive and principal consultant of DIR Consulting Group LLC, a consulting firm specializing in providing research, analysis, strategy, facilitation, contract management, budgeting, and revenue development for government and nonprofit clients since 2002. She has been a change agent in public policy and funding - steering organizations to embrace consumer-centered planning, recovery-oriented systems of care, integrated healthcare decision-making, and new funding initiatives.

 

Most recently she has been the subject matter expert and principal researcher to convert in-person curriculum to online self-led courses for the Columbo Plan Global Centre for Credentialing and Certification through a multi-year multi-million dollar grant from the US Department of State.  She guided the project from RFP development to launch.

 

“Dawn’s long career working with government funding at all levels allows her to bring a strong compliance and regulatory perspective to our projects, which every nonprofit needs but few have at this level.  She is also trained in fundraising and highly knowledgeable in project and financial management. She came along at the perfect time” said Lynn Thogersen, emeritus financial manager for GMHCN who retired in October 2021 after 27 years with the Network. Lynn returned to work part-time after the July 11, 2022 death of GMHCN Executive Director Sherry Jenkins Tucker to ensure a strong management team is in place to safeguard the future of peer support in Georgia and the resilience of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network.

 

Dawn has worked with over 41 clients over the past twenty years focused on healthcare, mental health, and substance use disorders as they relate to citizens and consumers.  She has assisted her clients in over $360 million in state appropriations while also managing projects underwritten by $18 million in grant and donor funds.  Prior to her consulting work she was the Chief Operating Officer of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, where she helped develop the structure for a new business model to support modern advocacy, and administered the merger of two existing organizations into a new 501(c)3 non-profit.

 

“Dawn’s vast experience in the contract work of non-profits will bolster the Network’s conservative and solid financial foundation. Her knowledge of Georgia and the foundation world will provide access to new resources to support both the innovative development work GMHCN is internationally known for, and the outreach efforts to support Georgia’s peers that is the heart of all we do here,” said Chris Johnson, Interim Executive Director and Director of Communications at GMHCN. He went on to say “Sherry interviewed Dawn and was planning to make her an offer of employment prior to her death. The financial upheavals of the pandemic era made it essential to have someone on staff with a better understanding of all the financial tools available to us. The completion of the hiring process for Dawn is one of the least challenging tasks the management team at the Network has faced this year. We are thrilled to have Dawn on board.”

 

Dawn will remain an adjunct professor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University designing and leading courses for undergraduate and graduate students around leadership, organizational behavior, data analysis, project evaluation, and project management.  She has also taught courses on budget and financial management for non-profit organizations through independent seminars.

 

Dawn holds a Master of Public Administration from Georgia State University with a concentration in management, budget and finance, and a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Service and International Politics from The Pennsylvania State University.  She lives in Stockbridge, Georgia with her husband Chris and their three cats: Bentley, Ferrari, and Lamborghini.

FIFTY YEARS OF 
COMMUNITY FRIENDSHIP

Ed. Note: When this article was sent to print in January 2020 (2020 Volume 3 of The Pipeline), few of us could imagine how prescient Jean Toole's words would come to be over the next years, when resilience, fortitude and a clear vision have been more essential than ever for nonprofit organizations to survive and thrive.

GEORGIA’S MILITARY VETERANS
FIND PURPOSE FOR THEIR EXPERIENCE

There are few who understand the value of peer support better than our military veterans. From training, through combat, and into retirement, each phase of a veteran’s military career is characterized by challenges those of us who have never served in the military will ever be able to truly understand. The necessities of a successful military unit—including teamwork and trust—are typically fostered from the first day a recruit arrives at training camp. The collective self-reliance of a fully realized community of soldiers is an awesome thing to witness. And yet, even those soldiers who have been to the brink of death, who have suffered mightily in body and spirit, still need skills and tools to use their experience of recovery to support others.

 

The Georgia Mental Health Consumer is pleased to be able to provide those skills and tools through our Certified Peer Specialist Project training, which has always encouraged Georgia’s military veterans to train with us, and in many cases to become Network employees. In fact, the current president of GMHCN’s Board of Directors Sergeant Major E. Joseph Sanders is not only a military veteran, he is a Certified Peer Specialist-MH, and provides peer support to fellow veterans at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

According to Sanders, there are approximately 60 peer specialists currently employed by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Healthcare Systems in Georgia, and of those 25 were trained by GMHCN through the Georgia Certified Peer Specialist Project training.

While one soldier supporting another through challenging times is a concept as old as war itself, the formal use of peer support as we understand it today began for veterans in 2008 under the Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008, which established the peer support requirements and qualifications, and in 2012 was expanded significantly when President Obama signed an executive order mandating the VHA to hire 800 peer support providers for mental health care.

Since that time, the VHA has passed Georgia and other states known for advancing peer support by creating opportunities for advancement and promotion for its peer support providers, who are hired in pay grades G6-G9, and may advance up to pay grade GS-11. In 2019 the VHA authorized the establishment of Peer Specialist Leads in pay grade GS-10 and Supervisory Peer Specialists in grade GS-11, creating a career a path that does not exist in Georgia’s public behavioral health system, where peer support workers frequently find other roles where advancement and promotion are possible, creating a revolving door of peer support talent and experience.

 

In addition to opportunity, recognition is also important. Each of Georgia’s three VHA Healthcare Systems annually identifies a Peer of the Year, and in 2021 all three of Georgia’s Peers of the Year were trained by GMHCN: Deshawn Dent, Eric Ellis, and Heather King from the VA Medical Centers in Atlanta, Augusta, and Dublin, respectively. King was also selected as the Veterans Integrated Service Network 07 Peer of the Year. VISN 07 consists of the eight Veteran Medical Centers and all their Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Alabama, Georgia and, South Carolina, together employing about 90 Certified Peer Specialists.

When asked to describe her work, King sounds much like many other successful Certified Peer Specialists, and identifies her favorite part of the work as “seeing the light go on when the person I am working with finally understands that there is hope, that we can and do recover, and is able to take off and flourish on their own.” And like most other peer specialists, King would like to see peer support better utilized in her community, particularly in hospital emergency departments, where she sees great potential for peer specialists to work “as bridge builders between healthcare providers and people experiencing a mental health crisis.”

 

That ability to envision potential is what provides hope to GMHCN Executive Director Sherry Jenkins Tucker, who observed while congratulating Georgia’s Peers of the Year that “Our military veterans have always had a special place here at the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network not just because of what they have sacrificed, but because of what they have to offer today. Their understanding of camaraderie, and in particular their ability to create an esprit de corps with other Certified Peer Specialists, has helped to build and strengthen Georgia’s Certified Peer Specialist workforce. I am grateful for them.”

 

A condensed version of this article appeared in the 2021 Volume 2 issue of The Pipeline.

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Heather King, CPS-MH

Since Community Friendship, Incorporated (CFI) first began providing psychosocial rehabilitation program services in 1973, much has changed in the world, and in the realm of mental health services.  Not only have there been five new editions published of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, the foundation of treatment and diagnosis in the clinical services profession, there have also been significant changes in the way public behavioral health funds are distributed.  So too has there been a sea change in public perception about mental illness, and the opportunities available to people living with mental health concerns. Throughout these changes CFI has remained an anchor of the mental health recovery community in Atlanta, and a national model for the integration of peer support into recovery-oriented mental health services.

At a time when many organizations are experiencing discomfort as a result of changes that are being enacted or considered at the state and national level, The Pipeline asked CFI to share about how it has thrived through the many changes it has experienced over the years. Their response, which included a lot of time and resources, demonstrated their organization’s unofficial motto: “When in Doubt, Do the Friendliest Thing”.  What we learned is that CFI has been able to be so resilient as an organization because it embraces the values it promotes in its services—a willingness to grow and change while remaining true to itself.    

And CFI has grown tremendously through the years. An abbreviated list of the services CFI currently provides includes psychosocial rehabilitation program services, vocational rehabilitation, supported employment, residential services at nine locations, trainings, homeless outreach and case management, peer support, intensive case management, whole health and wellness, and community transition planning.      

According to Jean Toole, the President and CEO of CFI, the organization has been able to grow into a comprehensive provider of recovery-based mental health services by “staying focused on what we do, and staying true to our vision. We are here to serve people, and help them have a better life.  We just keep doing the work that is important to the people we serve. We are fortunate to have such a well-rounded network of resources, from staff to community partners, to the ability to diversify our funding opportunities.  We have grown tremendously as an organization, incorporating new technologies, new ideas, and increasing efficiency in our workflow processes.  What has not changed is our primary focus, which is always the person sitting in front of us, who has come to us for support in achieving a better life. CFI believes that keeping our focus on the people we serve will enable us to continue the work we do.”    

When GMHCN launched the Certified Peer Specialist Project training in 2001, CFI began sponsoring participants, and from that very first training, Certified Peer Specialists have been an important part of the CFI workforce. Today, approximately 23% of CFI’s workforce is people with lived experience recovering from behavioral health concerns. Sherry Jenkins Tucker, GMHCN’s Executive Director, is very appreciative of the support GMHCN has received from CFI over the years, saying “the early and successful introduction of Certified Peer Specialists at Community Friendship was very beneficial to the development of the peer support workforce in Georgia. Our state is recognized as a leader and innovator in peer support, and through its early embrace of recovery-focused services, Community Friendship helped make that possible. It is always an honor to be able to collaborate with CFI. Jean Toole’s leadership, and friendship, are very important to me personally, as well as to GMHCN. We are all better off because of the work of CFI.”    

 

Local, state, and national leaders agree. Throughout the years, CFI has received many accolades recognizing the value of the work they do, including the 2018 Behavioral Health Exceptional Recovery-Oriented Service Award from Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. “We are proud of the recognition our programs have received,” says Toole, “but our real pride comes from seeing the impact we have, working together, in the lives of the people we serve.”

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Jean Toole,

President and CEO,

Community Friendship, Inc.

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