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Self Advocacy


Self-help and peer support are key elements of recovery for many people with mental illness. Self-help involves people coming together on the basis of common experiences to draw upon their own strengths to help themselves and one another. Self-help groups can help people cope with mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. Some groups form to provide support for people with similar life experiences, such as women survivors of trauma or people who have survived the death of a loved one by suicide.

Consumer/survivor organizations have developed in Ontario on the basis of self-help values. Consumer/survivor organizations run traditional self-help groups but they can also focus on public issues. They advocate for improvements in the mental health system and for the rights of people with mental illness. Through consumer/survivor initiatives, people can develop new skills and learn about resources and supports available to them in the mental health system.

Consumer/survivor initiatives also include "alternative businesses." These businesses are run entirely by consumer/survivors on the principles of community economic development. They focus on developing employment opportunities by working together as a group, and emphasize training, mentoring, skills development and peer support. Employees participate in decisions affecting the business.

Self-help groups are also offered by mainstream mental health organizations. Many CMHA branches across Ontario run self-help groups. Some mental health agencies and services also employ consumers as peer support workers.

The values of self-help and peer support are promoted by consumers from a diversity of racial, ethnic and cultural groups. The original funding for consumer/survivor initiatives in Ontario mandated that groups specifically facilitate the involvement of people from francophone and ethnocultural backgrounds. Self-help groups and consumer/survivor initiatives have developed outreach to newcomer and marginalized ethnoracial communities.

Research on self-help, peer support, consumer/survivor initiatives and alternative businesses has shown that these models help people improve their lives and recover from mental illness.

Canadian Mental Health Association (2004), A Framework for Support, Ontario Coalition of Alternative Businesses (2002), Working for a Change: A Handbook for Alternative Business Development.
Self-Help and Peer Support Services and Supports