Recovery Strategies: Mentoring

by Christina Bruni Patient Expert

I've written before about my experiences and suggestions living in recovery.
One aspect I want to tackle in greater detail is the idea of mentoring.

In 1987, I knew no one else with a mental health diagnosis who flourished, was living a good life and working at a full-time job.

In 1990, I was the only one with a job (as an administrative assistant).
Only one other peer-a woman I met in the halfway house-did it: she attended college and lived on her own.

I had no one farther along on this road to talk to.
No support groups existed.
The people I came in contact with in the mental health system couldn't help me: not the staff nor the consumers.

The guy who was my counselor at the halfway house stands out as the only one who took seriously my goal of getting a job and living independently.

I'd spend Saturday nights with my halfway house friend sitting on a couch and talking in the basement room.
We would listen to WSIA, 88.FM on the scratchy stereo: it was the radio station where I was a disc jockey for two years.

It wasn't until the winter of 2002-an astonishing 15 years after I was diagnosed-that I had a support group I could go to.
I attended and led the meetings for close to five years.
I met good friends there.

The question becomes: how do you find a mentor?

There's no yellow pages for successful people living in recovery that you can look up to find someone.
Most people with a diagnosis keep their history a secret.

I would start to see if a support group exists in your area.

I always thought if I had a connection to peers doing well, I might not have gone off my medication.
Yet I can't be certain of this, as I'm confident nearly all of us will try to live drug-free at some point.

As the Health Guide here, I can be an online mentor by writing about techniques I consider "best practices" that worked for me to be able to live life well after getting the diagnosis.

In your ordinary life, I can tell you a mentor doesn't only have to be a person with a mental health condition.
He or she can be anyone committed to living a healthy life, regardless of who they are in your community.

I met a brilliant woman in a fortuitous way.
I walked into a monthly gathering of women who have mental health diagnoses and immediately one of them shouted out: "You're Chris Bruni"
I hadn't ever met her in my life before, yet she knew it was me because she read my column and saw my photo in Schizophrenia Digest, renamed SZ magazine years ago.

Joy (not her real name) and I stayed friends long after the monthly meetings ended.

A support group isn't always an appropriate venue for support.
This sounds odd, yet sometimes the people you meet there aren't where you are and you'll spend all your limited time on their crises without talking about your own hard times.

Also: You might need a goal-directed, specific kind of support that you need regular feedback on again and again.
Here comes the Mastermind Circle: a group of three to five people who meet to tackle their goals.

You can meet once a month in person, via 3-way calling on the phone, or through e-mails.
In-person contact is the best.
A Mastermind Circle is a forum that goes back to when Andrew Carnegie and other leaders would meet together to help each other succeed in business.

Another option to find potential mentors is to gather socially with others in a MeetUp group devoted to a specific activity or passion where you live.
Log on to the MeetUp website to research your local options.

In earlier SharePosts, I wrote that staff in the mental health system often have a dim view of their clients' potential.
This is where a mentor can step in and why mentoring is so important as a recovery tool in our tool kit for living well.

I consider Joy to be a wise woman guide in my life.

What a mentor isn't: someone to clobber endlessly with your problems.
Mentoring involves give-and-take, a reciprocal respect and devotion to helping each other; the giving of thanks and showing thanks by each person in the relationship.

Like I said, you can raid a support group for a mentor or start a Mastermind Circle or look elsewhere in your community.

You can also try to develop confidence in yourself by doing what you love, re: my first Recovery Strategies: Getting Credentials tactic.

Yet life can be a lonely road without a mentor for those of us living in recovery.

I do wish there was a directory of peers we could use to find mentors.

I'll end with one suggestion: look up businesses in your city or town that are run by peers.
The Starry Night Cafe in Long Island, New York is run by peers.

So these avenues might provide another source of finding a mentor.

An option I'll touch on is to join LinkedIn and contribute to mental health LinkedIn Groups like the ones for RecoveryResources and NAMI.
In the discussion threads, people talk about topics central to recovery and you can get some good insight into how other people navigate the challenges of living well with a diagnosis.
You can even start your own discussion.

Lastly, you can write SharePosts here and I will always respond to them.

In the coming months:

I will talk more specifically about how exactly to give and receive support as a person living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

I have some hopeful tactics to reveal.

Christina Bruni
Meet Our Writer
Christina Bruni

Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.