As a peer support specialist working with Oaklawn’s mobile crisis response team, Pam Barr fields some difficult calls. It’s challenging work, but she always remembers that if she can just help one person, she’s made a difference.
“If I just listened or held the hand of one person, I’ve done my job,” she said.
And, Pam is able to relate to clients in a unique way. As a peer, she is herself in recovery from a mental health diagnosis and an addiction. It’s something she uses to connect with people in crisis and let them know there’s hope and that recovery is possible.
She took a call recently from a man facing addiction and wanting to get sober. He said he was disgusted with himself for spending all his money on drugs. Pam told him about how her own substance use led her to sell all the furniture in her house, stop paying her bills and nearly got her evicted. And, how she could hardly face her son when he returned home to find her in that state.
“I told him, ‘I know the feeling when you’ve messed up really big,’ ” she said. “He said, ‘I’m glad you told me that story.’ ”
Pam persuaded the caller to come to Oaklawn to start services and he was able to get the help he needed.
This is typical of the work Pam does day-to-day. It’s answering phone calls, listening well, consulting with her colleagues on how to best serve the client, and when necessary, dispatching in the community to meet with people in crisis where they are.
Pam says the most challenging aspect is when she can’t help the person in crisis – if they refuse help – or when there’s a negative outcome. That’s when it’s especially important to take care of yourself, she says.
“If you don’t have your self-care and your coping skills down pat, you’ll lose yourself. You’ll get compassion fatigue. You have to take care of you first,” she said.
But for the right person, the job is incredibly rewarding. It takes a person who sees the value in others, who’s accepting and nonjudgmental and who wants to share their story to benefit others.
“In order to keep what you have, you have to give it away,” she said. “If you’re a person who’s thinking about giving back or thinks your story could help someone else, do it!”