What You Need to Know about Peer Support as a Critical Link in the Chain of Survival: Interview with Eduardo Vega | Episode 9

NOTE: This podcast originally aired on 2/13/18 at 10AM ET/7AM PT   

Also available on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-225414284-842732102/what-you-need-to-know-about-peer-support-as-a-critical-link-in-the-chain-of-survival-interview-with-eduardo-vega-episode-9/s-aMJYq

“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen and a heart to understand them.”

“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen and a heart to understand them.”

“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen and a heart to understand them.”

Why Peer Support Matters

I have long believed that peer support is an underappreciated link in the chain of survival for suicide prevention. Trained peer specialists can not only help hold the pain for others, they can also help advocate for them and connect them to trusted resources. These helping relationships offer compassion and kinship and can augment and even replace other forms of professional care.

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In this inspirational podcast I have the great honor of interviewing one of my most beloved social agitators, Eduardo Vega. Eduardo begins by sharing his own experiences with suicidal intensity and the “incomprehensible demoralization” he felt as he tried to escape himself. For him the turning point happened when he started to connect with something larger than himself by helping others. Eduardo talks at length on the podcast about the helper principlein other words, the notion that helping others helps us. While the idea of peer support has long been promoted in addiction recovery and among mental health advocates, it is just now gaining traction in suicide prevention. Eduardo shares his view on why this is so, and gives us the science and the strategy for “the way forward.”

Here are some images of the "Destination Dignity March" in DC, a day when people living with mental health conditions stood in solidarity and demanded respect. #PeerPower

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About Eduardo Vega, MA

Eduardo Vega is CEO of Dignity Recovery Action! International, a consulting and technical assistance collective focused on social change, social justice and behavioral health systems transformation fueled by the “lived experience” of people who have been there. An internationally recognized thought leader in recovery-oriented programs and policy, consumer/user empowerment, stigma and discrimination, men’s health and suicide, Vega’s work as a change agent and innovator continues to drive the forefront of change for suicide prevention and mental health worldwide. 

For over twenty-five years, Vega has provided progressive leadership in behavioral health services, advocacy, policy and programming. A suicide attempt survivor who lived with serious mental health conditions himself since childhood, Vega has also worked in virtually every psychosocial and clinical mental health service setting, government, business and non-profit administration. As President and CEO of Mental Health Association of San Francisco from 2010 to 2016, he drove organizational expansion near one-thousand percent in three years, focusing on innovation in consumer-run services and community empowerment. Simultaneously, as Director and Principal Investigator at the Center for Dignity, Recovery and Empowerment Vega spearheaded leading-edge research, TA and training projects in suicide and stigma and discrimination reduction driven by the values of consumer rights and empowerment, community integration, self-help and peer support. Previously, he served at the executive management level as the Chief of the Division of Empowerment and Advocacy of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, one of the world’s largest public mental health authorities.

Highly sought as a speaker for his dynamism and ability to connect personal experience with systems and social change, Mr. Vega has presented and consulted on policy and technical issues in behavioral health with stakeholder and consumer groups, private industry and government throughout the US, in Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, Fiji and Latin America. In his leadership capacity he helped found the national Destination Dignity! Project, the California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations, the Yale International Lived Experience Leadership Institute, United Suicide Survivors International and other transformative initiatives. He serves on the board of the College for Behavioral Health Leadership, the Steering Committee of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Global Anti-Stigma Alliance, and the Executive Committee of the US National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, through which he founded the world’s first suicide attempt survivor task force.
Eduardo is a former Fulbright Specialist and California State Commissioner for Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability. For his leadership and work in culturally focused programs, stigma reduction, suicide prevention and systems change he has been recognized by the State of California, the United States Senate, the US federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the United States Surgeon General among others. He holds an M.A. in Psychology from New School for Social Research.


Show Notes

INTEGRATING LIVED EXPERIENCE GUIDE: The Way Forward: Pathways to Hope, Recovery and Wellness with Insights from Lived Experience

BOOK by Craig Miller This is How it Feels

HUFFINGTON POST ARTICLE: The Most Important Truth about Suicide is the One You’ve Never Heard

RESOURCE: Project Helping – volunteering as a form of healing for people living with mental health conditions


·       Mark Salzar, Temple University

·       Larry Davidson, Yale University

·       Peer Health Advocates, University of Chicago

·       Patrick Corrigan, Stigma Change and Peer Support

SKILLS and TACTICS for effective peer specialists:

·       Active Listening

·       Motivational Interviewing

·       Learning how to have compassionate conversations and keep people safe for now: QPR, ASIST and safeTALK

·       Connecting peers with mentors and experts – supervision, training, and guidance

·      Other pillars for a successful peer support program


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