Partnering with Primary Care: A Mental Health Consumer Perspective

by Kelechi Ubozoh, Communications Director for Peers Envisioning and Engaging Recovery Services (PEERS)

When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was too young to understand what it meant. My parents had just gotten divorced, and I started seeing a child therapist to help me cope with the separation.

Rocking my pink Keds sneakers, I attempted to work my issues out with sock puppets and finger-paint. I’ve had a label for longer than I haven’t. There were times when it felt like a black cloud was rolling overhead and followed me everywhere.

My mother, who is a primary care doctor, always looked at what I was going through as a health condition. She never shrugged off my problems, and she talked me through the dark times. As I grew into a young adult and the feelings of “otherness” were even more pronounced, I knew that I could count on my biggest supporter to help me reframe my thoughts and guide me back into reality.

I was thrilled when I learned PEERS would be reaching out to primary care providers. Being raised by a single mother running her own practice meant that I was constantly around doctors, nurses, and medical assistants. Waiting rooms were basically another home for me. In alignment with the Affordable Care Act and in support of the integration of physical health and mental health, PEERS is working to provide trainings to strengthen the partnership between primary care providers and people living with mental health issues. For so many people living with mental health issues, primary care is often the sole provider.

Kelechi Ubozoh with her mother Dr. Janet Bivens.
Kelechi Ubozoh with her mother Dr. Janet Bivens.

We had the incredible opportunity to run a pilot training for primary care providers over the weekend. Their feedback astounded me. I learned so much about what barriers they face to make sure their patients get the treatment they needed. I watched as they shared stories about losing sleep when referring patients and not knowing the outcomes of those services.

I heard them discuss systematic barriers, and learned just how little control they had in many areas. To be honest, I’ve always considered the barriers mental health consumers faced receiving quality health, but I hadn’t realized all of the barriers that primary care providers face to give the care.

It was such a learning moment for me, and I plan on doing and learning more on reducing those disparities and hearing more solutions. Even if we don’t have all of the solutions to the systemic problems, there is still much to be done even in a 15 minute patient visit.

Sometimes, reaching someone with mental health challenges doesn’t require a bullet point list or years of training; it’s about connection and seeing the person first.

I am not a diagnosis; I am a person. I am someone who loves theater, intensely enthusiastic about karaoke, and wants to always be a healer in my work. I greatly value the role of providers and intensely value the input of consumers in bridging the gap.

Peers Envisioning and Engaging Recovery Services (PEERS) is a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, Calif. that advocates for mental health awareness and ending mental health stigma. 

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About PEERS 2 Articles
A non-profit, peer-run organization based in Oakland, Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services (PEERS) offers new solutions for wellness and leads by example that mental health recovery is possible. PEERS programs are designed to eliminate mental health stigma and discrimination and to promote self-determination, wellness, recovery, and resiliency with individuals in recovery and their families.