‘Narratives of Recovery: The Role of Peer Support’ Book Launch

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Huge numbers turned out for the launch of ‘Narratives of Recovery from Mental Illness: The Role of Peer Support’ by Dr. Mike Watts, former National Programme Coordinator with GROW and Prof. Agnes Higgins of TCD Nursing & Midwifery.

The book was launched by Patricia Gilheaney, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Commission and was held in Trinity College’s School of Nursing and Midwifery in D’Olier Street, Dublin 2.

It features the personal recovery stories of 26 GROW members and their journey in rediscovering a ‘re-enchantment with life’. The book discusses the process of personal liberation and healing which assists recovery, and suggests that friendship, social involvement, compassion and nurturing processes of change are key factors in improved mental wellbeing.Dr. Mike Watts and Agnes Higgins at launch

It also highlights how social interaction, peer and community support, such as that provided by GROW, aid people in their recovery.

Speaking at the launch, Michele Kerrigan, CEO of GROW, highlighted how the book’s publication was important for all involved in mental health care.

“It allows us to draw the attention of policy makers, mental health services and practitioners again to the value of peer support.20170531_174552 (1)

“For many years, peer support service provision was not highly regarded as a means of supporting people with mental health issues. Thankfully, over the last number of years a lot of work has been done to effect change in understanding the uniqueness of peer support.

“Peer support is distinct from other forms of social support in that the source of support is a peer, a person who is similar in fundamental ways to the recipient of the support; their relationship is one of equality,” she emphasised.

Patricia Gilheaney described how the book “informs, inspires and educates”.

Patricia Gilheaney

“It is a must read for anyone who is striving for a deeper understanding of the causes and solutions to human distress… It provides us with the framework for understanding the pivotal role of peer support in nurturing people in their recovery,” she said.

“The authors also challenge mental health practitioners and provide food for thought on how they can change their way of being with people in distress.

“It is a book of hope and inspiration for those experiencing mental distress and those supporting them… It  would be nice if the stories contained within these chapters were to plant seeds of hope in the hearts of people currently wresting with distress and trauma, and help them start on a new journey of recovery leading to a re-enchantment with life,” she added.

Dr. Mike Watts described how the book is “really important” for a number of reasons.20170531_182632(0)

“Firstly, it challenges people’s perceptions about the competency of people with mental health problems around their own recovery and highlights how peer supported empowerment and risk taking is so powerful in helping and supporting people find niches in the community so they can move beyond the peer support community.

“Secondly, the stories in this book are a source of hope to people struggling with ‘mental illness’ and emotional distress and demonstrate many unexplored avenues and paths to recovery that need to be considered.”

Prof. Agnes Higgins spoke of the importance of mental health professionals remaining true to the ‘values, mission and belief that they came in with’.

Prof. Agnes Higgins speaking at the launch.


“It’s when you read or hear stories of people encountering GROW and that warm, compassionate welcome, you realise that if we can get services to have that first piece, then the rest will follow… If we can get people’s first encounter with services to be that warm, compassionate welcome and the willingness to listen and hear what people have to say, then there’s lots that will follow.”

Christine Fitzgerald, National Program Coordinator with GROW and a contributor to the research, spoke of her own recovery journey.

“I found the support of GROW eventually after many interventions that didn’t work for me.  I had at this stage grown to believe I would never be well again.  But thankfully I was wrong.  The support I got from my fellow GROWers and the GROW organisation was invaluable to my recovery.

“The connection, the magic, the miracle when someone reaches out to you and says ‘I was there and I’m ok now or at least I’m getting better’ is music to the ears of someone who is suffering… The feeling for some sufferers of ‘thank God I’m not alone in this’ is such a relief,” she said.

Speaking of recovery, Christine emphasised that recovery is possible.

Christine Fitzgerald, National Programme Coordinator with GROW and a contributor to the book.

“I believe in recovery because for 28 years I have not relapsed, so if that’s recovery I’ve recovered.  My life is far from perfect but because of the skills  learned, developed and incorporated into my life, as a result of finding GROW, I now know what to do if I’m ever challenged and who isn’t.

“I believe in the shared experience, learning from others’ wisdom and knowledge who have travelled that painful path.  We have known for a long time that people in this situation can help each others but how seriously have we taken it? I am happy to live in a time where the ‘lived experience’ is been taken seriously and I hope it continues and it is nurtured,” she added.

Rob Stephen, National Chairman of GROW, emphasised how the book illustrated the positive and very real recovery outcomes of GROW.IMGP8165

“At a recent meeting with HSE I was reminded of the importance of being able to demonstrate positive outcomes – so a big thanks to Mike and Agnes for providing some hard evidence which documents the positive impact which GROW has had on people’s lives.

“When I am asked How GROW Works, there are three key ingredients which, in my view, help people to recover. Namely Hope, Problem Solving and Friendly Community.

“When someone first attends a GROW meeting, they are usually bereft of all hope and in a dark, lonely, frightening place. But, at their first few meetings, they hear stories of recovery and meet people who once were in that same dark place but who are now well on the journey to recovery. Hearing first hand these inspiring stories ignites in them a flicker of hope which helps sustain their involvement for a short period of time.

“However, hope in itself is not going to change anything and hope, like a candle flame, only provides temporary warmth and respite. So within a few weeks it is important for the newcomer to start sharing problems and seeking solutions. Those in crisis are usually overwhelmed by many seemingly insurmountable problems. With the help of the GROW Programme and the benefit of the shared wisdom and experience of their peers, newcomers are helped to clarify, understand, prioritise and tackle problems, one by one,” he said.

Sincere thanks is extended to the 26 GROW members for sharing their incredible wisdom, experience and insights, to Patricia Gilheaney, Mike, Agnes, TCD Nursing & Midwifery, the GROW Ireland community and all who supported the research and launch.

Listen back to an interview about the research and book launch on Drivetime on RTE Radio One and on Newstalk Breakfast.

[See also the GROW Facebook page].