Mental Health Peer Connection launches public awareness campaign

Feb 21, 2020

Mental Health Peer Connection has launched a public awareness campaign that aims to further help reduce mental health stigma. The Erie County group has been operating for over 25 years and offers programs and facilities to help those living with mental illness.

Mental Health Peer Connection Director Maura Kelley and Assistant Director Kevin Smith
Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

But Mental Health Peer Connection Director Maura Kelley said much of the community isn’t aware of who they are.

“People need to know that we exist, that people just like themselves can recover together,” Kelley said. “Not just the doctor or physician, (but) as equal people helping people together and we do it one on one friend to friend or not friend to friend.”

Mental Health Peer Connect offers several programs that includes help for employment, crisis intervention and wellness coaching.

“Because we've been there. And we know so many people out there are there now and they can get help here,” Kelley said.  

Kevin Smith walked through the doors of Peer Connection back in 2003 looking for help. Now he’s the assistant director.

“I go back to when I first walked through the doors, and just dealing with my own mental health, I assumed that this was just going to be another stop of many where somebody was going to be trying to fix me,” Smith said. “And it became apparent really quick that I was in control. And that was new to me.”

New ads for Mental Health Peer Connection are now running across television and social media outlets. Smith said he hopes the awareness campaign will lead people to the right resources.

“Sometimes as simple as me joining the gym or some type of art therapy, or one of the big things that we promote is you know, me for wellness is employment,” Smith said. “I can only speak from my own personal experience, but had it not been for the support that I found through peer connection and employment, there's no telling where I would be today.”

Smith said it’s easier to accept help sometimes when the person you are working with can relate to the difficulties you may have encountered.

“When somebody sits down across from you and you cannot just tell them hey, you know what I understand what you're going through. And I've been there and this is why,” Smith said. “That connection is like no other. The spark that you see in people's eyes when they tell you hey, you know what, I have a mental illness, but you know what, I'm also a father, I'm a college graduate. I'm a supervisor here and you know, you can have that too.”

To learn more, visit Western New York Independent Living’s website.