Peninsula’s peer support program is a lifeline for many

man at computer with virtual meeting on screenHome-bound because of the worldwide pandemic, Zelda Drain was sinking deep into depression, withdrawing from the rest of the world and from life. She had overcome repeated child abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness in the past, but new problems in the wake of the lock-down were nearly her undoing. “I was so, so physically and mentally sick,” Drain says. “I was about to end up in a nursing home.”

Her hair began to fall out, she couldn’t stand on her feet for more than a moment and had to sit on a chair in the shower. “And I wasn’t getting out of the house,” Drain says. “I didn’t see  anybody.” The pandemic pushed Drain to a pivotal point. She chose to pivot toward hope and contact Peninsula Behavioral Health, where she joined a peer support program she says saved her life.

Help and Hope

Peninsula, a division of Parkwest Medical Center, offers innovative and caring mental health services that have helped thousands of people recover from disorders and dependencies to lead healthy, positive and productive lives. Offering both inpatient and outpatient services for children, adolescents and adults, Peninsula  is a leader in the changing healthcare environment. The pandemic that put restrictions on the rest of the world was an opportunity for Peninsula to grow its services online. “We have reached people who we never would have reached before,” says Peninsula’s Sheryl McCormick. “We’re reaching people who have disabilities, not just mental health disabilities, but physical disabilities, or who have childcare issues.” McCormick serves as coordinator of Peninsula’s peer support program. Virtual sessions made the service available to Drain, who lives about an hour away from Knoxville and can’t drive.

Selfie of Zelda.
Zelda Drain broke through depression to a life of joy and purpose thanks to Peninsula’s no-cost peer support programs.

“I just needed somebody to listen to me and I just needed somebody to care,” Drain says. Peninsula reached directly into her home with the help and sup- port she desperately needed. Peninsula’s classes on topics from anger management and illness to mindful meditation both comfort and em- power people who once felt helpless and alone. Instead of focusing just on teachers teaching and students listening, certified peer recovery specialists oversee meet-ups that connect people who can help each other through difficult days. “ The camaraderie is amazing and they’re so supportive of each other,” Drain says. “It’s just amazing for me to watch.”

Making the Connection

Support from peers pulled Drain out of the darkness and into a life filled with promise. She’s not sure where she would be today without the virtual help from Peninsula and the peers who have become treasured friends. “They saved my life,” Drain says emphatically. “They talked to me like I was a person. There were other people on there just like me, and we all more or less shared the same experience.”

Headshot of Sheryl McCormick
Sheryl McCormick, Peer Support Coordinator

It’s no surprise to McCormick, who has witnessed many times the difference peer support and recovery education can make. “It’s so important to know that you’re not alone  that there are other people like you who have struggled with some of the same things you’ve struggled with, who have acquired the tools and the skills to be able to over- come — to
become not just survivors, but actual thrivers,” McCormick says.

Peninsula’s peer support program is open to any- one who has a diagnosable mental illness,  including substance abuse. Participants can self-refer at no cost, thanks to a grant from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Today Drain is joyful and vibrant, she’s connecting with the world again and has hope for the  future. Drain doesn’t hesitate to share what the peer support program and her growing network  of friends have done for her. At times life today seems almost too good to be true. “I just can’t believe how God has blessed me,” Drain says. “My life is awesome!”

McCormick says, “I expect the virtual service to continue after the pandemic because we’re  reaching many more people than ever before in a way that suits their needs.” To learn more about peer support at Peninsula, visit PeninsulaBehavioralHealth.org/PeerSupportAcademies or call (865) 374-7148.

About Peninsula

Peninsula offers inpatient and outpatient services for children, adolescents and adults. In addition to a hospital in Blount County and outpatient services in Blount, Knox, Loudon and Sevier Counties, Peninsula provides specialized care through the Senior Behavioral Center located at Parkwest Medical Center. The variety of inpatient and outpatient services helps Peninsula meet community needs and enrich the lives of every patient. Highly trained and certified staff hold a strong commitment to caring, high-quality  programs and service.

Care at No Cost

In addition to inpatient and outpatient services that re- quire payment, Peninsula offers several no-cost programs for community members.

  • Independent Living Program: The Independent Living Program provides financial assistance for rent, utilities, dentures and glasses for qualified applicants diagnosed with a mental illness. An application providing financial information is required and must be assessed and approved by the program coordinator.
  • Peer Support Academies: Peninsula’s Peer Support Academies offer support for hundreds of individuals in Blount, Knox, Loudon and Sevier counties. Men and women age 18 and older who have a mental illness are eligible to apply to participate in the program.
  • Recovery Link: Recovery Link is designed to bridge the gap between addiction and recovery by connecting  people who suffer from addiction to treatment programs. The program serves East Tennessee residents, and will assist anyone, free of charge, in finding the treatment program that is right for them.
  • Support Groups: All support groups meet at the Peninsula Lighthouse campus at 1451 Dowell Springs Blvd. in Knoxville unless otherwise noted.
  • Women in Treatment: This program is appropriate for uninsured women age 18-64 who suffer from addiction. Priority placement is given to pregnant women who misuse drugs intravenously, pregnant women with active addition and other women who misuse drugs by injection. The women must be uninsured or have exhausted available insurance benefits.

To learn more, visit PeninsulaBehavioralHealth.org or call (865) 970-9800.

Emergency Help in a Hospital Setting

In cooperation with the Knox County Health Department, Covenant Health has placed two peer recovery navigators from Peninsula Behavioral Health at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. These Peninsula navigators work in the hospital’s emergency department full-time, and help patients that have substance use disorders. In peer recovery programs, a trained professional who has recovered from addiction is paired with someone who is facing recovery or still in the midst of it. The goal of the new initiative is to increase access to care for patients who come to the emergency department as the result of an overdose or other problems caused by substance dependency.

“Peninsula has been a pioneer in the area of peer support and recovery for more than a decade,” says Mark Potts, LCSW, director of clinical services at Peninsula. “The recovery navigator program at Fort Sanders Regional gives us the opportunity to reach people in their time of greatest need.” The navigators provide emotional support in the hospital and also connect patients with resources to help conquer addiction going forward. This also helps reduce the risk of return visits to the emergency department related to substance abuse. The program is funded by a grant received by Knox County Health Department (KCHD) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is part of KHCD’s newly formed Response Division.