ODE (the Office of Diversity and Equity) has just wrapped up a five-part class called the Lived Experience Academy. The Academy is a course for people to learn how to tell their stories of lived experience for personal empowerment, community building, and local advocacy. For those unfamiliar with the term, “lived experience” refers to having first-hand experience with mental health challenges. We use the word “lived” to differentiate from mental health professionals or others who may have extensive experience of working with mental health conditions or systems of care, but have not lived through those challenges personally. This distinction is important because for most of history, and still today, people with lived experience have been stigmatized, disempowered, and told that others know what is best for them. Even after maintaining wellness and being in recovery, people with lived experience are often excluded from the workforce and discriminated against in other ways. One reason for this is because the narratives perpetuated about mental illness are often scary, violent, and overwhelmingly negative.
The Lived Experience Academy turns all of those negative concepts on their head. Here are our core values:
- Lived experience is expertise.
- Integrating people with lived experience into the workforce is a type of workforce diversity, and increasing all forms of workforce diversity is important.
- Storytelling can be empowering, healing, educational, and destigmatizing.
The Lived Experience Academy gives people space to explore their past, present, and future, and craft a story that genuinely reflects their lived experience. Many of these stories do have sad, frightening, and ugly components to them. But when we dig deeper and open our lens wider, we find there is much more. There is hope. There is strength. There is resilience. By bringing those parts to light, we can bring mental health challenges out of the shadows. Our hope at the County is that by training people to share their stories of mental health recovery, we can reduce stigma, and give people with lived experience more opportunities to use their expertise to help others.
I want to offer heartfelt congratulations to our Lived Experience Academy graduates this year. Being part of this 10-hour class requires not just physical work to show up, but emotional work to be present. Thank you for showing courage, dedication, and determination throughout. Hope begets hope, and you have set that process in motion by sharing your truth.
Author: Mai Le