History of the Peer (or “Consumer”) Movement

Since the late 1970s, consumer and family organizations have increased their influence over mental health services. Through strong advocacy, they have gained a voice in legislation and policy at both national and state levels in order to shape the mental health care system into something that is more representative of consumer needs and wants. Though divergent in their history and philosophy, organizations representing consumers and family members have developed some important, overlapping goals. These include:

  • Overcoming stigma
  • Preventing discrimination
  • Promoting self-help groups
  • Advocating for recovery-oriented treatment

While we recognize the value and importance of all advocacy and service organizations devoted to representing the consumer voice, there is something very different about an organization that is actually led by those consumers. Here, we call them peers. Throughout the county, peer-operated organizations help unite the voices of their members to create more powerful and effective advocacy.

Throughout its history, Colorado has been missing this voice. As a result, it experiences challenges in accessibility to quality integrated care, availability of peer-led services, and opportunities for self-sufficiency and living free from stigma. The Colorado Mental Wellness Network is the only peer-led organization in Colorado that pushes to resolve these challenges and advocates for the rights of our peers.

History of the Colorado Mental Wellness Network

In 2002, the Network, then known as the Wellness Education Coalition and Advocacy Network (or WE CAN!), was established by joining two existing grassroots consumer groups. These groups, the Consumer Centered Services of Colorado (CCSC) and Colorado Leadership Academy (CLA), both provided peer training and advocacy throughout the state. Their union into WE CAN! operated as a program under a larger mental health advocacy organization, then called Mental Health America of Colorado.

Over the next 8 years, the Network grew its staff from one person to two full-time, one part-time, and multiple interns and volunteers. We have expanded our services to include Peer Support Specialist training and Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP®) workshops. Equally importantly, we have nurtured community partnerships, become members of numerous stakeholder councils and committees, and have created extensive ties to our local community.

In late 2010, the Network’s statewide advisory board and staff decided to move forward with incorporation and independence. Throughout 2011, we worked to develop a board of directors and establish bylaws and articles of incorporation. Finally, in November 2011, we filed our articles with the Secretary of State and became an independent organization.

Where we are Today

Our passion is supporting people with mental health conditions who are seeking recovery, wellness, meaning, and balance. We support these individuals by providing evidence-based, skill-building workshops and training. We believe that recovery is possible for every person that wants it, and our choice in programs reflects that.

Here is what one recent WRAP® participant had to say:

This process saved me, I believe this whole-heartedly. I recommend this program to anyone, for any struggle, including drug use. I also recommend the Network and the WRAP® Facilitators as an organization and persons who have true compassion, understanding, and a desire for overall wellness.

Tamara Krause

In 2014, we provided WRAP® training to over 150 people. Additionally, we reached over 11,000 people with advocacy tools and information through our e-newsletter, via social media, and from outreach at events. Finally, our staff and volunteers conducted over 600 hours of advocacy work at the Capitol and other policy-making tables.

The Network brings awareness to the real issues impacting people with mental health conditions. Together, with our supporters and partners, we are making a difference!