Marina Colonas has been at the forefront of a new trend for helping older adults cope with mental health issues over the past year, and she discussed those experiences at a recent event at the State House.
Colonas is a Certified Older Adult Peer Specialist (COAPS), a relatively new designation that specializes in drawing on personal experiences of mental health recovery to work with older adults. Having experienced firsthand some of the common hurdles to accessing traditional supports, Colonas said the peer approach has a unique appeal.
“Peer support is a useful tool, since we are particularly tuned into the mixed feelings people often have about mental health treatment,” said Colonas. “We are also trained to treat people as equals and minimize power differentials. This is a welcome shift for many people who have experience being talked down to or infantilized by providers due to ageism.”
A per diem specialist at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES), Colonas was among the many peer support advocates who converged on the State House to promote benefits of the program in late June. Titled “Celebrating Resilience: How Peer Support Transforms Lives,” the event was organized by the Transformation Center, a statewide peer-assistance organization. At the event, Colonas spoke to the importance of the COAPS training, especially as it relates to older adults.
Colonas was part of the inaugural COAPS training through the Department of Mental Health last year, and is one of very few people in this role across the state. Her primary area of focus at SCES is de-cluttering support, both through home visits and leading peer groups at the Cambridge and Somerville Councils on Aging.
Colonas said her own recovery story often plays an important role when making a connection with clients, because it’s often the first time they’ve heard someone speak openly about their recovery experience.
“Being able to open up and to talk about something as filled with guilt and shame as de-cluttering is amazing,” she said of the peer groups she leads. “One attendee said it’s the most helpful treatment she has ever received, for the most difficult problem that she has.”
The De-cluttering with Peer Support group is held at senior centers in both Cambridge and Somerville. For more information about the Cambridge program, contact Liz Seelman at 617-349-6048 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For Somerville, contact Natasha Naim at 617-625-6600 ext. 2317 or email@example.com.
The Transformation Center is a statewide peer-operated organization that provides training, advocacy, and resources as part of the mental health recovery movement. For more information, visit www.transformation-center.org or call 617-442-4111.