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Health care providers acknowledge that people who have learned to navigate mental illness can be key in helping others dealing with similar conditions.

That’s why the regional mental health community seeks more of them.

The first Western New York Regional Peer Conference will take place next Saturday in the Butler Rehabilitation Center on the campus of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

The theme of the conference will be “Peers Promoting Wellness and Recovery Throughout the Lifespan.”

Peers have the lived experience of mental illness. The peer perspective is viewed as a way to help others maneuver through health services that focus on wellness and recovery. The conference aims to:

• Attract new people to the mental health peer movement.

• Offer education to peers, providers and families in our community.

• Give peers an opportunity to share their skills and expertise, and network with others involved in supporting recovery.

• Increase awareness of how peers can contribute to others in recovery from serious mental illnesses.

Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan, commissioner of the state Office of Mental Health, will give the keynote address, and a variety of peer-led workshops will be part of the conference. Topics will include: peers working with peers; stepping beyond illness; youth peer mentorship in the community; understanding peer support services in the Veterans Health Administration; and the power of laughter for wellness.

“Much of the training offered today is through webinars and video presentations,” said Kathy Lynch, director in the psychiatric center’s Center for Self Discovery and well-known local peer advocate. “We find that those living in the rural areas of the Western New York region rarely have the opportunity to connect one-on-one with others involved in the peer movement. The peer conference will make it possible for peers to meet and learn from more experienced peers.”

The Regional Peer Conference will be preceded Friday by the 13th annual HA HA Conference – Healthy Alternatives Through the Healing Arts – also taking place in the Butler Rehabilitation Center. The HA HA conference will provide a variety of workshops to help individuals use holistic healing to support their recovery journey.

The registration fee for peers is $15 for one day and $24 for both days. Partial peer scholarships are available. The fee for non-peers is $20 for one day and $32 for two days. The fee includes a continental breakfast and lunch.

For more information, contact conference co-chairs, Lynch, 816-2142, or Sharon Ward, 816-2913.

The conference is sponsored by the Center for Self Discovery in collaboration with peer and mental health provider organizations that include Healthy Alternatives Through the Healing Arts (HA HA), the Restoration Society Inc., Mental Health Peer Connection, Peers Helping Peers, New Directions Recovery Center, the Mental Health Association of Erie County, and the state Office of Mental Health Western New York Field Unit.