Shery Mead had her first encounter with the mental health system as a teenager. It was a time when most people were over-medicated, shock treatments were routine, and no one even asked about trauma and abuse. She was offered life in a halfway house and a limited future. Needless to say, it was not much to look forward to. Shery began, instead, to put her creative energy into music, allowing her to “say that which could not be said.” Though this worked reasonably well for a number of years, the deep shame, fear, powerlessness and sense of “otherness” finally caught back up with her, and she ended up back in the system. Neither the culture nor the prognoses had changed much. She fell into leading the life of a “mental patient.”
Finally, when loss of custody of her children was threatened (based simply on psychiatric diagnosis), she decided she’d had enough. It was then that she realized that she and many others had a choice: the choice of saying “no more.” Soon after, Shery started a peer organization whose focus was specifically “unlearning the mental patient role.” Everything changed after that. She developed training for judges and lawyers about making reasonable custody decisions in cases where one parent has a psychiatric diagnosis; she developed groups for women trauma survivors using music to speak out; she created New Hampshire’s first peer-run crisis respite program; and she started training mental health professionals and peer support workers locally, nationally, and internationally. Founded by Shery, Intentional Peer Support was developed in the 1990s. Since then, thousands of people in various countries around the world have been trained in the material. You can read more of Shery’s story in her article, IPS: A Personal Retrospective.