For week three of our “Colorado Gives Campaign” featuring our volunteers, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Fitch. Kate has been with the organization only for 5 months devoting roughly ten hours per week to our marketing and communications, but I think she has done more work than I have accomplished all year! O.k. not really, but she is amazingly fast, dedicated and perhaps the smartest person I know. I am interviewing Kate so she doesn’t have to interview herself for this post.. you will probably wish she had – Kate is the author of many articles, blogs, tweets, etc. coming from The Network. She is so passionate about her connection to the mental health peer community and I am extremely grateful she’s decided to work with us!

A little about Kate: Kate is a student at the Community College of Denver, she enjoys crafts, origami and cooking and finds them vital to her wellness. Kate also works for the Reading Partners program in Denver as a Literacy Intervention Tutor through a work study program (she didn’t say this but she is a true advocate – taking every opportunity to speak up for the rights of her peers – and her reach extends beyond the United States).

Kate grew up in Texas, as a young adult she relocated to England after being diagnosed. A desire for better mental health treatment was the primary reason for her move, as she puts “It was better there, more recovery-oriented, treatment that extended beyond the norm (i.e., meds, a few therapy appointments, and a shove back out the door b/c insurance is running out)”.

Her experience in the UK was true psychosocial rehabilitation with a focus on “living with” symptoms versus using lots of medications to suppress them. She was also encouraged to use the support of her peers, which was a very different message than the one she received during multiple inpatient stays in Texas. Kate says she “built a community of recovery” instead of avoiding other “sick people” and for her this was a major part of her success. Instead of being forced to take classes or groups that weren’t helpful she was given choices (e.g., mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal communication, etc.) and then after several months of full time care her program was thoughtfully scaled back and she slowly reintegrated into the community.

I asked Kate, having gotten to know her and her incredible drive and personal motivation to be well, what external source of inspiration helps her stay the course. She responded “a desire to share my experience with others so that they can find what they need here, not an ocean away”. Recognizing her situation is unique she hopes that instead of leaving the country to find holistic care – that her experiences and those of others willing to share, will help rally peers together to help impact large scale systems change.

Kate admits she did not know what the term “peer support” really meant, after moving to Colorado she was looking for a group or some kind of support from others with similar experiences and found the Colorado Mental Wellness Network’s website. “When I learned that the organization was staffed by people with mental [health conditions] I knew it would be a fit.”

I asked her in her words, what does The Network provide that is important to the community, Kate replied “Education, advocacy and support services that are needed to make effective change in mental health care”. “On several different levels – on the individual level – offering people information [so that they can learn to be well] in addition to traditional treatment; on an organizational level – offering organizations wellness programming to support their staff; and on a system-wide level, getting out the message that [the treatment system] needs to change and we [peers] know what can help.”

When asked how/if Kate feels her experience volunteering with The Network has helped her -Kate said that her voice is important and valued at the organization, which is not something she’s experienced elsewhere. Her ideas are nurtured and encouraged here and in the words of her father “she’s really found her jam” here at The Network. (I love that quote, and I love that we are anyone’s “jam”!). She added that the organization has made her feel stronger as a person.

I concluded the interview by asking Kate to give me one statement that would summarize her beliefs about why peer support and the organization – as a facilitator of the peer community in Colorado – is so important. She said, “Twenty percent of American’s have a mental health condition – someone you know and love, your mother, father, son, daughter, friend, or co-worker has a mental illness. The people you care about deserve to have the best, most effective treatment possible. Being involved with and/or giving to The Network will ensure that someone you know and love will be connected to what they need”.

I could not put it better myself and could not be more thankful for Kate – who she is and what she stands for – not just all the amazing contributions she’s already made to the organization.

       Amanda Kearney-Smith, Executive Director

Volunteer Spotlight: Kate Fitch