OF A PEER (Recipient, consumer,
ex-patient, survivor) by Pat Risser
This is something our movement has struggled with for over 25 years. Personally, I view a peer as someone who has endured similar oppression and is willing to stand and declare such publicly. Men are not peers to women because we haven't endured the oppression of being a woman in a male dominated society. White folks aren't peers to black folks because we haven't endured the oppression of being Black in a white dominated society.
Anyone who stands and declares that they are a peer of mine must know and have endured similar oppression from society and from the mental health system that treated me as a mental patient rather than as a person. If you haven't "been there, done that" you aren't a peer of mine. We can still be friends and colleagues but only a peer knows what it feels like to have walked a mile in my moccasins.
I have been hospitalized over twenty times, mostly involuntary, mostly following suicide attempts. I have lost peers to a system that really didn't understand my pain (or that of my friends). You needn't have been hospitalized, forcibly drugged, locked in seclusion and restraints, punished in day treatment, etc. but you better have felt that oppression somehow in your life. Only if you've endured the trauma and retraumatization and felt the weight of the system upon your shoulders as you struggled to heal from your own issues can you truly be a peer of mine.
Peers are special people. They have an expertise born of experience. It creates a bond and association that opens channels of communication and trust that transcend the system. I agree with another definition that declared:
"A peer is not someone who has sought couples and/or individual counseling to resolve passing difficulties; who has engaged in therapy at a time of major life transition, who has used antidepressants or tranquilizers to ease discomfort at certain times of life. Nor do family members of individuals with diagnoses fit the definition of peer."
Others may empathize with our pain and suffering but their lives aren't at stake. That, to me, makes us the primary stakeholder in the system. We may be a pain in the butt to family members and we may cause them some discomfort but they aren't the ones whose lives are shortened (by 25 years!! on average) by our "care and treatment" at the hands of the system. Providers may be good and kindly souls who really want to appreciate our struggles but they're not the ones whose lives are at stake. They can always find other employment but we don't always get another shot at life and death.
I've rambled long enough. I guess you can tell it's something I feel strongly about. A few years ago when Dan Fisher (one of us) was appointed to the President's New Freedom Commission he said it was good that at least we got a seat at the table. I responded, "It's about damn time! It's OUR table!"