Amanda Thompson: Empowerment Services 

Importance of peer-run mental-health services

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With over 20 years’ experience working in human services and mental health, Amanda Thompson recently founded Empowerment Services, a nonprofit run by and for people in need of mental-health treatment. According to Thompson, it’s the first organization of its type in Utah. The nonprofit will hold a day-long Utah Peer Conference sponsored by the Utah Division of Substance Abuse & Mental Health (DSAMH) on Friday, Sept. 14, at the Red Lion Hotel (161 W. 600 South, Salt Lake City). Anyone in Utah who currently or in the past has received mental-health services is invited (visit EmpowermentServices.org).

Why does Utah need another mental-health organization?

We offer a perspective that is unique because of our lived experience. All of our management and staff are comprised of people who have personally experienced living with the effects of a psychiatric illness. Peer-run services are an effective adjunct to traditional services.

Why did you create Empowerment Services?

I learned about the concept of peer-run service programs in spring 2011 and was surprised that Utah didn’t have this type of organization. As someone who has struggled with mental illness myself, I understood the value of working one-on-one with another [person] who has experienced the same problem who can offer empathy, acceptance and understanding, as well as support and practical solutions based on what has worked for him or her.

What gaps does your program fill?

One of the specific gaps is that we would like to open a peer-run drop-in center. This would provide a place for individuals who have lost their day programs to go where they could participate in self-help groups and classes and health and wellness activities. This would not be a stereotypical “mental health” program. It will be hip—a place with coffee bar, a pool table and some good music in the background.

What’s a highlight of your upcoming conference?

Our keynote speaker, Matt Canuteson from New York, is nationally renowned. He will discuss his personal recovery story, which includes growing up in foster care, followed by adoption, hospitalization, psychiatric disability and addiction, homelessness and incarceration. From there, he went on to complete his B.A. in political science from University at Albany, SUNY. He has tirelessly advocated for peer-to-peer support.

What’s a misconception that the mentally ill have to deal with?

Most people diagnosed with mental illnesses can and do recover, and many recover completely. Recovery refers to a process in which a person is able to live, work, learn and have relationships in their community. For some, it is a complete remission in symptoms, and for others is a reduction in symptoms.

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