Kristine's Journey: From Coping to Serving and Leading 

May 9, 2024

By Kristine Irizarry, Education Manager, New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center

Growing up in Puerto Rico, where discussions about mental health were often avoided, I never questioned this cultural norm. Even with both parents facing mental health challenges, I just learned to tread carefully through life—always wary of potential issues related to the mental health and well-being of my parents/family. In many ways perhaps my professional journey as a peer support specialist helping young adults in managing their mental health struggles, was informed by concerns around the issue my parent faced in a space where seeking help was frowned upon/not an option.

Amid the COVID 19 pandemic, I was dealt a devastating blow when one of the young adults I worked with died from an overdose. The loss left me questioning the impact of my efforts. I found myself spiraling into anxiety and depression. Fortunately, I was equipped with the perspective and tools to know that I needed to seek help. I visited my doctor who confirmed the diagnosis and prescribed medication. Initially, I was hesitant to take medication because of my father's history with addiction. But once I started the prescribed regimen, I began to feel relief and I was able to experience moments of laughter and joy I had not felt in a long time. With newly found clarity and hope, I explored new opportunities and accepted new challenges, which led me to the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health (Yale PRCH).

Yale PRCH is part of the Connecticut Mental Health Center of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. The organization conducts research, training, evaluation, and policy development in the areas of recovery from serious mental illness, substance use, citizenship, social inclusion, and health disparities and equity. One of its signature programs—The Lived Experience Transformational Leadership Academy [LET(s)Lead] —was born out of the efforts of Yale PRCH staff, most of whom identify as leaders with lived experience, to create a course that provides emerging leaders with lived experience knowledge about and opportunities for leadership skill development, including a mentorship with a current leader(s) in the field.

As a LET(s)Lead Fellow (Class of 2021), I entered the program with an idea for a transformational change project and gained valuable leadership skills and mentorship opportunities that helped me to emerge with a renewed sense of purpose. Though I no longer work directly with young adults, I am now an education manager with the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center and part of an amazing team. And as a part of the platform LET(s)Lead affords me as program fellow, I am a trainer, speaker, and advocate for mental health awareness and social justice in my community.

During Mental Health Awareness Month in May and beyond, I hope that my journey serves as a testament to resilience and the power of seeking help. Despite facing personal struggles, I found healing and discovered my leadership potential which is allowing me the chance to share my story in a way that positively impacts others.

Mental Health Awareness Month
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