"We've walked in their shoes."
Jerome was living a satisfying young life. He had a supportive family and friends, earned good grades, loved music, and had a well-paying job.
That all changed around this 20th birthday when he began to hear voices and perceive threats around every corner. He’d retreat to the restroom at work, struggling to get to his car before panic set it.
After isolating himself in his mom’s basement, there were hospitalizations and strong medications that made Jerome feel out of sorts.
“Luckily my mom called CHD. Once you’ve isolated yourself for a period of time … it’s hard. Outreach workers would come to my house and make sure I took my meds, but mostly they treated me like a regular person,” he says.
The care he received inspired Jerome to join CHD as a peer specialist with Adult Community Clinical Services. This state-funded program blends clinical services with recovery coaches and peer specialists who use their own life experiences to help others facing similar challenges.
Peer recovery director Andy Beresky emphasizes that “lived experience” isn’t just a catch phrase, but an evidence-based philosophy tied to state contracts awarded to community-based treatment providers.
“There’s a wisdom and a resilience to those who’ve come out on the other side. Who better to know how it is to be hospitalized? To be deprived of their liberty or go through a trauma?” Beresky asked.
In his healing journey, Jerome went from attending a Hearing Voices support group to running the group to being hired as a full-time employee. He’s now among more than a dozen certified peer specialists in the Springfield office.
“I’m not steering the ship,” Jerome says. “I feel like I work alongside people. We’ve walked in their shoes.”
Today, Jerome has a five-year-old daughter and is in a stable relationship. He lives in his own apartment and plans to go back to college for a business degree.
“I have to thank my mom first. She convinced me to get help by telling me she wanted ‘the old Jerome’ back,” he says.