RUTLAND – Vermont Psychiatric Survivors has announced the start of two new peer outreach staff.
Mariah Sullivan has joined VPS as a patient representative for southern Vermont. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling psychology.
Sullivan has spent time working in a variety of areas in mental health/substance abuse including as a mental health therapist, at a needle exchange, at a crisis center, and at inpatient facilities and residential homes.
She describes herself as passionate about the reform of both our mental health and criminal justice systems. Having lived mental health experience, Sullivan says she entered the field in the hopes of being a positive force within a system that she felt she’d often been let down by.
Sullivan says that she found that she was not satisfied working in many of these positions and felt that they were not in alignment with her personality and sometimes her values. She felt that she wasn’t able to create the change and have the impact she wanted within the structure of the mental health system. As a result, she says she shifted her focus and interest to advocacy, peer work, and alternative models of mental health.
Grace Walter has also joined Vermont Psychiatric Survivors as a patient representative., covering northern Vermont areas. Born and raised in Connecticut, she graduated from Newtown High School and then found her way to Vermont for college.
Walter discovered her interest in working with nonprofits when she volunteered with Gun Sense Vermont to advocate for common sense gun laws. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Vermont.
Walter says she is passionate about advocacy for a number of social, racial and environmental issues, but is especially passionate about reforming the mental health system. Mental health strikes as a personal issue, she says, and she feels fulfilled helping others struggling. In order to prioritize healing she says she takes refuge in the things that make her happy, like being outdoors in beautiful Vermont, practicing painting and drawing, and listening to music.
Walter enjoys traveling, and spent a month in Florence, Italy, exploring and learning about the culture.
Stephanie Kacanich has come on board as a part-time peer advocate. She describes herself as a psychiatric survivor as well as a person who is in recovery from alcohol, whose passion for peer advocacy came “in my early days of figuring out who I was in my recovery journey.”
Kacanich’s professional experience began at Turning Point of Chittenden County where she made her way from a volunteer to a Recovery Coach for the Moms in Recovery Group and as an emergency department Recovery Coach at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
“I also had the chance to go back to UVMMC psych units as a Mental Health Tech and not a patient, which was a great experience because it gave me a way to show my peers that there was a path forward to a healthier life,” she says.
“My mission in life is to help peers gain their confidence, happiness, and ability to live a happy life through forming a connection and by letting them choose their path to wellness.”