Last month I had the privilege of being the keynote presenter for Utah’s first consumer conference. The conference, called the Utah Peer Conference, was held on September 14th, 2012 and was a daylong event aimed at stimulating Utah’s consumer community.

The event was a huge success, with over 150 participants, a lot for an organization that did not even exists two years ago. The event was sponsored by Empowerment Services, Utah’s first fully consumer run organization. The brainchild of Amanda Thompson, this organization has come a long way in a short time to offer a different perspective about the ways that peers can be used in service delivery, and how people with psychiatric disabilities should be treated with respect and dignity – most of all treated in a way that will help them recover.

My keynote focused on my personal story of substance abuse, mental health challenges and brief time periods of incarceration and homelessness. More importantly, my talk was centered on how peer support and access to treatment services allowed me to recover, get an education and a healthy career and family.

In addition, I spoke about opportunities at the federal level to help consumers live lives of wellness and hope, as well as shed some light on support that is available for consumer organizations to thrive into the future.

There is a lot of hope and a full head of steam for Empowerment Services, they have a great deal of support from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse & Mental Health and are also supported with technical assistance from The Family Café, one of the Substance Abuse Mental Health Service Administration’s Consumer/Consumer Supporter Technical Assistance Centers.

I am very proud of their progress and I look forward to more opportunities to support consumer organizations from around the country.