A peer support specialist with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Transition Age Youth Division was honored May 6 in Washington, D.C., by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Qaiel Peltier, 23, was recognized by SAMHSA for working to help Humboldt County youth overcome challenges in their lives as they enter adulthood. Peltier was invited to speak during SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day kickoff event, which was part of this year’s National Council for Behavioral Health Conference.
Peltier and three other youth from across the nation shared the SAMHSA stage with former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose daughter, Chiara de Blasio, served as the 2014 honorary chairperson of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.
At the conference, Peltier also co-facilitated a workshop titled “What Really Works for Young Adults,” which delved into the unique needs of young adults with mental health or co-occurring conditions and the value of peer support in addressing those needs.
“As California comes to a critical crossroads in terms of implementation of its health and behavioral health systems, the voices of the children, youth and families we serve in shaping the programs the state delivers are essential if government is to have a positive impact,” said DHHS Director Phillip R. Crandall. “The phrase ‘nothing about us without us’ underscores the key role youth and families should play in shaping services and supports toward a future where they can thrive, not just survive.”
Peltier’s speech focused on the importance of improving behavioral health services in schools to meet all young people’s needs, including gender and sexual minority students. Peltier also encouraged schools to use positive climate models that focus on policy and training in addressing issues like bullying and discrimination and urged leaders across the nation to include “an authentic youth voice” in decisions that involve services youth receive.
“Young people need to be valued as experts in our own lives and to be given a say in voice and control over the services we receive … and our path to wellness,” Peltier said in an interview.
Growing up, Peltier experienced significant bullying and discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender expression. This led to depression, eating disorders and other mental health challenges. Finding little help in high school or through traditional mental health services, Peltier ultimately found support through the Humboldt County Transition Age Youth Collaboration (HCTAYC). HCTAYC is a component of DHHS’ Transition Age Youth (TAY) Division. The TAY Division, which serves young adults ages 16 to 26, has three main units: TAY Behavioral Health, the Independent Living Skills program and HCTAYC.
“When I got involved with HCTAYC, I was going through a pretty dark time,” Peltier said. “I was pretty hopeless. I needed an outlet. HCTAYC and the TAY Division were that outlet … I don’t know where I’d be right now if I hadn’t had this to pour my energy into.”
Peltier soon became a member of HCTAYC’s Youth Advisory Board. While serving on the advisory board, Peltier worked with a team of peers to create a curriculum on engaging and supporting transgender and gender-nonconforming youth in mental health services. This curriculum has gone on to be presented by Peltier and others at state and national conferences. Peltier also helped create DHHS’ Transition Age Youth Behavioral Health Unit, which provides specialty mental health services for young people that focus on gaining employment, housing, education and personal well-being.
“Humboldt County DHHS continues to provide leadership at the state and national levels in the implementation of youth developed and driven services,” Crandall said.
Two years ago, Peltier started working as a peer support specialist for DHHS’ TAY Division. As part of the job, Peltier assists young people who are in crisis, with the goal of engaging them in seeking services and supports at the TAY Division and continues to contribute to workgroups that inform services for young people.
“We use our experiences to help other people,” said Peltier in an interview. “We have a different understanding of what it’s like to struggle with your own wellness.”
HCTAYC youth organizer Rochelle Trochtenberg nominated Peltier for the SAMHSA recognition. In her nomination letter she wrote, “Qaiel is open to learning about different perspectives and is constantly striving for professional growth and improvement.”
One of Peltier’s interests is the topic of preferred-gender pronouns (PGP) that are inclusive and welcoming for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Ze (a gender-neutral pronoun that replaces he or she) encourages people to use gender-neutral pronouns when talking to or about hir (a gender-neutral pronoun that replaces him or her) or others who prefer the use of PGPs.
With all of hir talents and skills, who knows what ze will do next?
For more information about the TAY Division, call 476-4944. For more information about HCTAYC, call 476-4922 or visit www.humboldtyouth.org.