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First peer panel: enabling young psychiatric patients to share their stories

Even though mental illness is common, some people prefer to keep their struggles hidden. This can sometimes contribute to misunderstandings and stigmas that young psychiatric patients have to face. To help overcome the lack of awareness and understanding about mental illness in adolescents and young adults, the Early Treatment Program (ETP) at Northwell Health has established a peer panel for patients to share their stories.

Our first Peer Panel was held in October 2016. During the event, a diverse group of young adults in the program bravely shared their struggles with the audience. Each panelist detailed their journey in navigating everyday life with the strange and unusual experiences of feeling confused, disorganized and not quite themselves.

Panelists recounted their experience with the program, the gradual process of becoming more comfortable in their own skin and choosing to focus on the future instead of the past. They described their goals, which often included establishing a career in the mental health field and helping others as they’ve been helped. The importance of taking medications and attending therapy was also reiterated.

Many panelists also described having to deal with the stigma of mental illness within their families and the workplace; however, some added that telling close friends about their diagnosis was often met with a sense of relief in putting a name to symptoms. Family members in the audience shared that they wished they had known how to identify early warning signs. The willingness and desire to help panelists through tough times was a common theme of the discussion.

Several audience members were visibly moved during the panel, praising the young patients for having the courage to talk about their struggles and for continuing their effort to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) support groups and parent help groups were also discussed to help patients and families navigate this often confusing and unknown territory.

The panel concluded with a young audience member raising his hand to say, “Everyone has been saying nice things,” aptly describing the positivity and support offered by the compassionate healthcare providers and family members who are helping these patients on their journeys to productive, healthy and happy lives.

We’re here to help

Whether you're experiencing symptoms yourself or searching for help for a friend or family member, confronting mental illness can be hard. But the sooner care starts, the sooner recovery can begin.

To reach out, call (718) 470-8888 or (212) 434-2830. You can also email us.

Jennifer Rahman

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