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CPS Blog: Men's Health Month: Men and Peer Support
By Emily Skehill, Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services Associate
Mike Weaver, Executive Director of the International Association of Peer Supporters, didn’t know his father had Bipolar Disorder until he passed away. Mike himself wasn’t ashamed to get help, but he did find that the people around him didn’t understand. When he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder while working as a public school teacher, his psychiatrist suggested that he needed a less stressful position. Mike didn’t think that was the answer and pushed forward with teaching and serving on 12 committees. Eventually he felt like he wasn’t living – he was “just surviving.” Following a manic episode and some felony convictions, his teaching career ended. After he was released from prison, Mike had to restart his life. He spent five years trying to find a steady job and worked in restaurants, retail stores, and other low-wage positions. Eventually, Mike decided therapy wasn’t going to help until he found a job he liked.
He started facilitating a Bipolar Support Alliance group in the evenings and finally felt like his life had meaning. Eventually he was facilitating three groups and created a new facilitator’s manual. Since then, he has continued on to facilitate peer support and WRAP classes, as well as training for peer support specialists.
Research has found similar successes with male-focused peer support groups. A 2015 study found that peer support significantly raised the perceived resilience of participants, as well as their trust of others and social connections (Robinson, 2015).
One of the challenges Mike, and many other men, had to overcome was how people saw him – as someone who “looked ‘normal’, but [whose] brain went dark places.” It still tends to be less accepted for a man to struggle with his mental health than for a woman, and in turn, more likely remain a secret. By giving men a space to connect with other men who have had similar experiences, they can see firsthand that they aren’t alone and let down their walls built on gender stereotypes.
Robinson, M., Raine, G., Robertson, S., Steen, M., & Day, R. (2015). Peer support as a resilience building practice with men. Journal of Public Mental Health, 14(4). Retrieved from https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/JPMH-04-2015-0015