Mental health Peer Operated Centers provide a vital service to Kentuckians, according to president of 360 Mental Health Services, Dr. Tim Houchin, M.D.

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May is Mental Health Month and what better time to acquaint readers with Peer Operated Centers, or POCs. These centers offer education, support and, perhaps most importantly, hope to those afflicted with serious mental illness.

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Dr. Tim

The hope given to mental health clients by Kentucky’s POCs appears to be backed by a well-organized group of individuals, each working to improve the lives of Kentuckians who otherwise might have no place to turn.

On May 23, 2014 KYStars for Mental Health presented a day long conference highlighting key components of Kentucky’s 8 Peer Operated Centers, or POCs.

So what are POCs and peer specialists? The website for SAMSHA, a Federal government mental health agency, defines a POC as a center that provides services to individuals with significant mental health problems. A peer specialist is defined on the KYStars website as “an adult with a psychiatric disability who completes the training program provided by the Kentucky Division of Behavioral Health and passes both a written and an oral test.”

While attending the KYStars conference Dr. Houchin had the opportunity to interview a number of attendees and presenters. According to Ms. Marcie Timmerman, former president of Lexington's National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter, “KYStars is a statewide program, based in Lexington and funded by the State Department of Behavioral Health / Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, to provide assistance to peer specialists and those who employ them. They also provide assistance on mental health recovery across the state.”

Examples of services provided by POCs, according to SAMSHA and KYStars, include vocational training, development of skills for self-care and recovery, and education about mental health conditions and available treatments. Several participants relayed to Dr. Houchin that their experiences with Kentucky’s POCs were life-changing. “I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for the Participation Station,” said one participant, who reported struggling with severe mental illness for decades before achieving stability with the help of the Lexington-based POC.

Community psychologist and NAMI-Lexington Director of Advocacy Kelly Gunning stated, “One of the best things we can do [with our POCs] is create meaning for people.” Dr. Houchin later said, “Ms. Gunning’s quote deeply resonated with me because, as a psychiatrist, I’ve seen that when people lack meaning in their lives there is little motivation for them to recover from their illness.”

Both SAMSHA and KYStars emphasize on their websites that POCs are not meant to replace traditional mental health treatment, but rather enhance it by providing assistance accessing psychotherapy, case management and other psychiatric services available in the community.

In the age of “evidence based medicine” mental health programs are increasingly asked to demonstrate that they are in fact making a difference or risk being defunded. Along these lines, Dr. Houchin had an opportunity to attend a lecture by Mr. David Riggsby, co-director of KYStars, on POC outcome measures. Mr. Riggsby discussed use of the Peer Outcomes Protocol, or POP, which assists in monitoring progress in employment, quality of life, and overall well being of clients utilizing POCs. Mr. Riggsby stated, “Our peer support initiative has been extremely effective at helping our clients who struggle with mental health issues, as the trained peers have ‘been there’ before. It really shows our clients there is hope.”

“Hope,” said Dr. Houchin, “was a central theme of the conference. The hope given to mental health clients by Kentucky’s POCs appears to be backed up by a well-organized group of individuals, each working to improve the lives of Kentuckians who otherwise might have no place else to turn.”

About 360 Mental Health Services:
360 Mental Health Services is a comprehensive mental health diagnostic and treatment center based in Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. Tim Houchin, founder and president of 360 Mental Health Services, is one of approximately 200 physicians in the United States to be triple board certified in psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry & forensic psychiatry.

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