Peers Inspire Hope in Nevada County Behavioral Health Program


By Wendy Desormeaux

MHSOAC  Staff Mental Health Specialist

Respite from the storm, everyone needs it from time to time. Residents of Nevada County with mental health challenges can find it at the Insight Respite Center.

The Insight Respite Center creates a supportive healing environment for individuals with mental health challenges who are going through difficult times. It helps prevent a costly (both monetarily and emotionally) crisis intervention or hospitalization. Peer staff and others with lived experience aid guests in focusing on their personal strengths and to gain emotional stability, balance and resilience within their lives, as they work toward their recovery.

The Center in Nevada County which is funded by Mental Health Services Act dollars welcomes guests with a large tree stencil with framed notes of gratitude from prior guests. The Respite Center, a single-family residential house, has living room windows that overlook a neighbor’s pasture.  Guests might see a sheep snoozing or a Canadian goose, nestled in the grass.

Darin Barry (shown in the photograph) a previous two-time guest at the Respite Center is now a Peer Support Specialist providing hope and acceptance to others. Darin recently shared his story of how he went from guest to staff member. He started experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder as a youth. For years he tried to self-medicate his way out of his symptoms with alcohol. Eventually he got sober. But his symptoms continued, and he could no longer blame his erratic behavior on alcohol. When his brother Gordon told him, “You make it really hard to love you,” Darin went to therapy to discover “What was wrong with me?”

It took Darin three years to own his diagnosis and figure out what to do with it.

Darin learned of an opportunity to enroll in the Nevada County Behavioral Health Adult Education Program. This program provides a series of classes designed to help persons with lived experience gain the necessary skills to utilize their lived experience to help others in their recovery journey.   In this training program, Darin gained insight into himself, his illness, and gained support from staff and his classmates. When asked what he found to be the hardest to absorb in the program he said, “The hardest for me to learn was not taking on other people’s pain and bringing it home as well as the need to focus on yourself while you balance empathy with professionalism.”

In 2017 Darin was hired as a Peer Support Specialist, in the location that he himself utilized twice in 2015 to “transition back into life.” Darin’s first stay was after receiving treatment in a psychiatric ward. Later he was again having difficulty, but he did not meet the criteria for hospitalization.  The Respite Center provided him a place and the space where he “was able to get through the remaining days of my mania without hurting anyone or myself.”

When asked about the services he provides at the Respite Center, Darin stresses that providing hope to others is of primary importance. He himself wanted to die until a peer at the hospital offered him hope.

Another key component is meeting people where they’re at and not looking at the end game, Darin added.  “We all would like to see people at the finish line but pushing them to get there is not the way to go. A Professional treatment plan puts a lot of pressure on people.  We don’t push people down a path that might not be right for them.  We don’t ever give advice but relate our own experiences.”

Darin seeks to inspire hope.

“If they leave here with hope my mission is accomplished,” he said.