As project director of the East Texas Coalition for Mental Health Recovery I have had the opportunity to be involved in many activities over the past year.  My experience with the coalition members has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding.  Last month, along with 13 members of the coalition, I attended the RESPECT Institute in Rusk, Texas.

The RESPECT Institute is designed to provide mental health consumers the skills and coaching necessary to transform their mental illness, treatment and recovery experiences into educational and inspirational presentations. The RESPECT Institute helps participants organize, construct and customize their personal stories so they can be shared in diverse venues, like legislative meetings, employee orientations, university classrooms, civic meetings and continuing education programs.

I also want to share with you what Lori Thomas sent me immediately following the institute. Lori is a military services family peer partner from Tyler, Texas. She said, “I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated the opportunity to attend the Respect Institute.  This has given me the opportunity to gain more confidence in speaking to others about my experience as a mother of an Iraqi veteran. Each time I meet together with this wonderful group of people, I find out more about myself.  Whether through WRAP, Mission Possible, our regular video/teleconferences, talking with my peer buddy, visiting other facilities and now the RESPECT Institute, I find myself more on the road to recovery. I really do hope the Hogg Foundation realizes what an impact they are having for those of us in the East Texas area.  So many times those of us in the ‘rural areas’ are forgotten.”

Many of the participants in the RESPECT Institute shared they were feeling more confident and more in control of their painful life experiences once they learned the skills necessary to deliver their experiences in the form of a story to audiences. Above all else, the RESPECT Institute empowers consumers by acknowledging, honoring and valuing their personal experiences and insights. Through this recognition and acceptance, consumers reclaim their sense of self. They can own their personal experiences without shame or embarrassment. The end result is that mental health consumers become active allies in alleviating stigma in the general public, in advancing the mission of recovery and wellness, and in educating the next generation of mental health professionals.

The experience to be amongst my East Texas peers in such a safe and nurturing environment was phenomenal. The opportunity for growth, self-reflection and honor was just what the mind, body and soul needed. I will keep this tool on my wellness plan forever.