A person with long brunette hair, blue eyes, and a blue patterned scarf against a background of green grass and a brick and tan building

Prioritizing humanity: Kayla Stannard, Peer Support Advocate

Latest News

Kayla now works as a Peer Support Advocate in UCS’ Community Rehabilitation and Treatment (CRT) program, which supports adults with long term mental illness. “Had I continued to lock myself in shame and depression and sadness, and kept the story to myself, I never would have had this opportunity,” she says.

Kayla Stannard came to United Counseling Service (UCS) through the Finding Access to Services and Treatment (FAST) program with trauma and a deep fear of people. She was terrified of interaction with others, even close family members, and battling depression, anxiety, and sadness. She came to UCS for help, but she would soon be the one helping others find paths through mental health challenges and crises.

The role of a Peer Support Advocate gives people with lived experience of mental illness the chance to support clients going through their own mental health challenges. Peers provide a perspective that can’t be taught or learned. “Being a peer is having the opportunity to prioritize humanity, work side by side to encourage healing and support, and really just uplift each other,” says Kayla. “That’s what I love so much about my job—I’m helping someone, and they’re helping me. I’ve experienced the power of sharing that burden.”

The work of a Peer Support Advocate changes day to day and week to week, with opportunities to support clients in many different ways. Sometimes this means stopping by someone’s home and helping with laundry, sitting with someone and coloring, watching a movie, or making a few jokes and laughing together. One of the individuals Kayla supports enjoys reading and studying the Bible together, which brings a smile to her client’s face in dark moments. From teaching self-compassion in UCS’ Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), to providing direct service case management out in the community, there is diversity in every day.

Emphasizing someone’s humanity, according to Kayla, is why peer support is uniquely effective in helping to heal.

One day, Kayla stopped by UCS’ South Street group home, which provides support, counseling, and independent living skills for people with long term mental illness. The group home manager witnessed Kayla interacting with one of the residents. She told Kayla that she had never seen the young woman smile before that moment. As a peer, Kayla can connect with clients as someone with a shared perspective and break down any hierarchy that may typically be present between clinician and client. “Being a peer is really just being a friend, a human, not looking at any dynamic,” she says. “I’m not looking at your diagnosis. You’re just a friend to me.”

Serving others through peer support is a big part of Kayla’s life, but other passions fill her time and heart as well. One of these is her faith. She spends a lot of time organizing Bible studies where people can meet up to learn and talk about the Bible. She says that gentle lowliness, her heart posture, is something that she applies in her daily work that comes from her faith. Getting people together to see the transformation that happens when they choose to love one another is the reward and purpose behind her study groups.

Another huge passion of Kayla’s is travel and traveling whenever possible. Spontaneous long weekends to new destinations and return trips to beloved places brings her joy. “I go on these little three day vacations, to the beach, Rhode Island, and to the South—which I love,” says Kayla. One of her best travel memories is waking up one morning and buying a bus ticket to Atlanta, Georgia. What she originally planned to be a long weekend ended up a three and a half week stay. “It was so amazing, just meeting people and walking around, experiencing the hospitality of people,” says Kayla. “I love taking these short little trips and connecting with humans and talking to people.” She also frequently hosts dinner gatherings and brunches, and enjoys moments spent in the company of friends.

Being in the presence of others, something that used to be terrifying, is now one of the things she loves most about life and her job. For Kayla, healing and living starts with sharing her story and listening to the stories that others tell.

“You have to be brave enough to see that when you are vulnerable, you can be wounded, but know confidently that when you are willing to share, there is so much transformation that’s going to happen. Be prepared for it to change your whole life.”

Related Press