What is Peer Certification? 

This month I spoke in support of Peer Certification- something that 48 other states have- Peer Certification refers to a certification process where people who have lived experience of mental health issues and/or substance use issues receive training in that experience and use it to support others  through treatment and recovery. Their time is billed (though the rates could use some help), but their support is seen as services in the mental health system. As progressive as California is- we don’t have this here.

What did I say in support of the SB10 Peer Certification Bill? 

Thank you, Senator Bell, the OAC, and the Steinburg Institute for Sponsoring this bill. Thank you to all of the mental health advocates and grassroots organizations who have been working on this legislation for years. My name is Kelechi Ubozoh, and I am the Peer and Community Engagement Manager at CalMHSA. I am honored and thrilled to testify in support of SB10Peer Certification.

I am a former journalist, an author, and a suicide attempt survivor. When my mental health struggles first emerged as a teenager, I was told that I would always be sick and only manage my mental illness at best. For many years I internalized those beliefs and my mental health truly declined.

What I needed was someone who had similar experiences of mental health struggles to hold out hope for me, share their experience with recovery, and be a model of strength. I needed a peer. On my path to healing (which never ends) I moved to California because of the Mental Health Services Act inclusion of people with lived experience and found a community of peers.

My experience receiving peer support changed my life. While working at PEERS, a peer run-non profit in Alameda County, I met a cohort of people with lived experience who helped me unlearn the lies that I held onto that I would never get better and helped normalize the conversation about mental health. One of my closest peer allies/ Jenee- gave me a platform to tell my story and listened in a non-judgmental way. It was the first time I had shared what had happened to me outside of a clinical setting and the shame and guilt I felt around being a suicide attempt survivor. She said, I’m glad you are still here. How do you stay here? Never in my life had I had a conversation that was that honest, but it was relief. I wasn’t a burden- I didn’t have to hide-The more I spoke with other peers the less isolated I felt. This did wonders for my mental health and finding my voice.

My younger self deserved peer support. At PEERS, we provided amazing services  but many were time limited and attached to a grant.

Despite incredible outcomes like the peer support program that matched peers with someone leaving a locked facility and showed a high reduction in re-hospitalizations-Because our work wasn’t Medi-CAL billable- it wasn’t sustainable in the long-run, and once the grant funds were done-the programs attached were gone too.

We need to legitimatize the work that is already being done by peers currently and create standardization and sustainability for this recovery-based work across the state.

California is rich in the diversity of culture, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender expression. While there is a shortage of mental health workers here is not a shortage of people with mental health issues from all walks of life who are ready and able to use those experiences to support one another.

It is time for California to establish peer certification. SB10 is our version of hope- an opportunity to build a peer career ladder, professionalize and honor work, and save lives.

What happened Next? 

SB 10 Peer Certification Passed UNANIMOUSLY! Vote 15-0. I was also joined by Keris Myric, the Discipline Chief for Peer Services in L.A. and she also gave personal testimony about the importance of peer support. Screen Shot 2019-07-18 at 7.41.45 AM

Next step is the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Shout out to Senator Beall, OAC, L.A. County, and Steinburg Institute for sponsoring and all of the mental health advocates and grassroots orgs that have been working on this legislation for years!!




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