Jennifer Silbaugh

Jennifer Silbaugh: A Mental Health Peer Specialist’s Perspective on Healthcare

It’s a mental health peer specialist’s perspective on healthcare from Jennifer Silbaugh on this episode of the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast with Rob Oliver. Jennifer is a new author, the book is called “A Dove in the Shadows,” and shares her personal journey from mental health patient to peer specialist. She is from just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is a member of the Millennial Generation.

Here are 3 things that stood out in a mental health peer specialist’s perspective on healthcare from Jennifer Silbaugh:

  • A peer specialist has an advantage over a professional because they have been through similar experiences to the individuals they are assisting. The shared experience comes across as more genuine wine and trustworthy than hearing it from a doctor.
  • As with many health issues, the mental health journey is an ongoing process, even when you are in recovery. There are still struggles and challenges to face and cope with.
  • It is refreshing to be able to talk openly about mental health. Hearing public figures and celebrities share their mental health struggles helps to reduce stigma and encourage honest discussions.

You can learn more about Jennifer Silbaugh and her book as well as connect with her through the links below:


Here is the text of Jennifer Silbaugh giving a mental health peer support specialist’s perspective on healthcare:

Rob Oliver: Thank you and welcome. I appreciate you being here today. Today we have Jen Silbaugh. She is a certified peer specialist in mental health. She is the author of A Dove in the Shadows. She’s a member of the Millennial Generation, and she is from Pennsylvania. Jen, welcome to the podcast.

Jennifer Silbaugh: Hi, thanks for having me.

Rob Oliver: Absolutely. So let’s jump right into this. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role and background in healthcare, please?

Jennifer Silbaugh: So yes, I am a new author. There’s my book cover. It’s called A Dove in the Shadows, My Mental Health Recovery Journey from Patient to Professional. And it came out about a month ago, and it was really important to me for it to come out during September, which is Suicide Awareness Month. And it is about my 20-year journey as a patient in the mental health system, just stuck and suffering and lost and broken. And then it captures my 10 years also of being in recovery and going back to one of the main hospitals where I received most of my treatment, which was UPMC Western here in Pittsburgh, PA. And I worked there as a certified peer specialist for 10 years to help others that are still stuck and broken and lost like I was. But now since I’m in recovery and doing well, I was able to go back and face those challenges because I needed to let other people know that they can also recover and live meaningful lives.

Rob Oliver: How much of a difference do you think there is between hearing that message from a professional and hearing it from someone who has gone through the experience?

Jennifer Silbaugh: Yeah, that’s a really great question. I feel like it’s so much more genuine when you know, like, you know, hey, you’ve been in this ER and you’re here with me right now. You know what I’m going through. It just seems so much more genuine than a doctor saying, oh, yeah, you can one day get better. You know, it has to have a connection that you can trust that person and believe that person and see and see that person that, hey, you know, you used to be just like me and you’re now, you know, you’re different, but you still get you get it. You know, you just get it.

Rob Oliver: Yeah, I would imagine. So I’ll just be upfront with this. I’ve got a spinal cord injury and there are, you know, I deal with it for the most part and or but there are days when it’s hard and there are days when I struggle. And I would imagine that hearing the message that says there is hope. And yet at the same time, I would imagine that the mental health journey is not a journey where you arrive at the top of the mountain and you just stay there and you are fixed and you no longer struggle. Am I properly characterizing that?

Jennifer Silbaugh: Absolutely. You know, just like your medical condition and any other conditions, you know, people in mental health, I’ll just speak for me personally. I definitely I still struggle. I do, you know, say that I’m in recovery because I’m, you know, happy and hopeful. I’ve become somebody that I never thought I could be. It’s just so much more of a progress than I used to be, you know, constantly in the hospitals, you know, on 50 plus medications, 200 plus shock treatments like my life revolved around the mental health system, doctors, hospitals. So that is all more stable now. But yes, I still struggle with depression. I’m actually currently prepping to get my little light box out that I have for, you know, it’s getting, you know, darker sooner. And I have like kind of a little bit of a seasonal affective disorder thing. So I got to get that out. And yeah, every day is, you know, a new journey. It’s not so much of a challenge as it used to be or a struggle, but, you know, there’s just key things I need to make sure I do daily and notice when I’m, you know, maybe not so much on track. But yeah, it’s definitely ongoing.

Rob Oliver: Okay. And I think what I’m hearing you say is that as you are in the recovery process, you begin to look at the tools that are available to you to assist you in maintaining your current state. And in continuing down the path to happiness and fulfillment and avoiding depression. So I’m assuming that’s one of the other messages that you’re able to share with people is there are supports in place, there are tools available that will help you in this journey so that you’re not all on your own.

Jennifer Silbaugh: Right. I mean, everybody, you know, comes from different backgrounds. Everybody has different experiences, life experiences, different relationship experiences. But somehow we can all, you know, come to a common ground and meet there and support each other, be non-judgmental of each other, be, you know, supporting.

Rob Oliver: And just welcoming and, you know, just treat people, accept people for who they are and meet them where they are, which is great.

Jennifer Silbaugh: Yeah. Absolutely.

Rob Oliver: Good. So what does quality healthcare mean to you?

Jennifer Silbaugh: Quality healthcare means to me that it is readily available. Working in the ER that I did, there are a lot of struggles to have enough services available. I know people would come in. They would, you know, meet criteria for inpatient admissions and then there’d be no bed. So even though we are a large, we’re a large hospital and the whole hospital is dedicated psychiatric care, we are one of one of the only hospitals around that have that. People are coming from out of state, sometimes out of the country to come to us. But then it’s a challenge for us. We don’t have enough services. So I, you know, would be there with the people, try to, you know, encourage them that, you know, they can get through this part of their journey and on to the next. And I just feel like there needs to be more availability. Even if people didn’t meet criteria for inpatient admissions, you know, they were given a number to call, but then their appointment would be a couple of weeks just to get in the services, get a therapist. So if you’re coming to us in a crisis, nothing’s really going to change the more likely to, while you’re waiting for your appointment to come back to us to, you know, there’s no, there’s just not enough. And, you know, I let people know that, you know, we’re only a part of this puzzle. And I just wish there was more community availability, more crisis centers out in the community. There is Resolve Crisis Center where people could stay also if they need to. But I think it’s just, I think there just needs to be more mental health services in the community or that offer a place to stay somewhere like a, like, like a hospital, maybe not inpatient, but there needs to be more, you know, more, even more hospitals like Western.

Rob Oliver: Okay. And what I’m hearing you say is that there are people who are in a mental health crisis that don’t necessarily need inpatient care, but they need more urgent care than getting an appointment a week or two down the road. They need help.

Jennifer Silbaugh: Right.

Rob Oliver: Closer to now. Okay. Can you, you’ve kind of done this, but can you give me an example of quality healthcare?

Jennifer Silbaugh: I would say an example of quality healthcare would be say somebody, you know, walks through our doors. They are, they have their issue, whatever that might be, whether it’s crisis related or just need services. I would say a good example would be, okay, hey, you know, I haven’t seen a therapist in a couple of years. I’m kind of, you know, heading down a path again where I think that could help me. We would be able to assess the situation and, you know, possibly agree with them. And I would, you know, hope that we can provide something that would be like, okay, well, in a day or two, you can go see this person. I just feel like there is availability out there for services and I just feel like it needs to be in a more timely manner.

Rob Oliver: Okay. So not a lot of people have heard of a peer specialist. So what do you wish people understood about your role in healthcare?

Jennifer Silbaugh: Yeah. I, I would say that I just want people to understand that, you know, especially in the emergency room, you know, we really had to educate our coworkers that, our doctors, there’s like security officers. So we would be, you know, possibly sitting out there and one time I was listening to music with, you know, somebody that was waiting, I know music is a big part of my life and, you know, they really just, you know, love music also, and music is a coping strategy to help you through. So I want people to know that we’re not, we’re still professionals, even though we, we connect with people differently. We don’t, it’s a little unconventional, I guess. So we’re not, we’re still professionals, but we’re not people’s friends either. It might appear like, Oh, Hey, what’s your favorite song? Oh, Hey, I like that band or, or something like that. I know when I was working out in the community as well, you know, somebody invited me to their, their kid’s birthday party. It’s because there’s, there’s a good relationship there and you can relate to somebody, but we’re, we’re kind of right in the middle between like a professional and a friend. So we do absolutely have to respect boundaries and that can be, you know, very hard because we do, you know, have deeper conversations because we have more time with people. We get to know, you know, maybe about their family or maybe, you know, talk about music or talk about, you know, what’s, what’s going on this weekend. It would seem like a friend, but yeah, we’re, we definitely have boundaries to keep and to make sure that they’re not crossed.

Rob Oliver: Sure. Is there a certification process for peer specialists? Is it, what’s the, what’s the process to become one?

Jennifer Silbaugh: There is a process I don’t know other than the state of PA. So there, well, when I got my certification, it does cost money to apply and to go there. Sometimes OVR will help you with the cost of that. Are there other programs in the area that could help with the cost of that? Also if you’re hired within UPMC, I know that like within the, they give you like within the first year to eventually get the training and they might even pay for it. But yes, there is, like I said, it was a long time ago and things have changed. I know through COVID there was like a two week course where for me it was eight hours a day for two weeks. So it’s almost like a, like a college class or something like that. You had to, you know, be very responsible. You had homework at the end of the day. You had to participate. So it was, you know, stressful for me. You know, I had to travel downtown, but like I said, I think that they have accommodated it better for people where things might be online now, but yeah, there is a process. Oh, and you have to get it like renewed. Every year you have to have credits, something like a certification. Yeah.

Rob Oliver: Wonderful. What excites you about the future of healthcare?

Jennifer Silbaugh: I just wanted, I’m very excited. Actually two nights ago, John Fetterman, he was on one of the late night shows like at midnight or something, and he was being interviewed about, you know, his making his, his mental health journey or struggle made public. So I just felt like, wow, this is, this is being addressed on, you know, national TV and being supported. And I just felt like that was so awesome. Like people wanted to hear about it and they supported him for doing it. And I just think it’s great for people that have a higher up position, like it could be a politician, it could be a doctor, because we’re all human, you know, we’re all, you know, kind of the same on the inside, regardless of our status in life. And I just felt like it was really brave and bold of him because I know he was doing it for a reason. And I think that’s going to open up so many doors for other people who just be real about their life.

Rob Oliver: Yeah. And I mean, what I’m hearing you say kind of between the lines is that mental health is becoming something that can be talked about instead of something that is you’re feeling shame and guilt and feeling that you have to hide this. It’s now a conversation that can be had because there are people saying that, you know, I’m dealing with this as well. And those people are a lot of public figures who are joining the conversation, which is huge. All right. Last question for you. What is one thing medical professionals can start doing today to improve the quality of health care?

Jennifer Silbaugh: I would say talk to your consumers, talk to your patients. Have different ideas other than traditional medicine. Like have conversations, just don’t go straight to say, hey, OK, I’m going to prescribe you this pill or you need this. I know I’m really blessed and thankful to have a really good psychiatrist who’s been with me through my journey. And he asked me about things I have struggled on in the past with pulling my hair and picking at it. And he ran into somebody or is treating somebody that also has the same struggle. And he’s asking me, hey, what has helped you deal with this? Because there’s, I guess, technically not a pill that would stop you from putting your hand to your hair. I put on Band-Aids. So it was just I think it’s good to like maybe if somebody is well, when somebody is well or better from their struggle, then, hey, have a conversation with them. Hey, what what was the thing there? What really helped you through this? You know, other than maybe a pill, you know, so I was able to tell him, you know, and he might have suggested, you know, to put a Band-Aid, you know, that could have helped somebody and it wasn’t necessarily, you know, a pill. So it’s just like thinking outside of the box and having the conversation with somebody, you know, maybe when they do overcome it.

Rob Oliver: Yep. So it’s interesting because I was you went further than what I was expecting. And so I had someone on who was talking about mental health and said that a prescription without an addition of therapy, she considered to be insufficient. So it starts with the prescription and then therapy alongside of that as another tool. But what you’re talking about is how do we how do we access the people who have been through this and allow them to share what has helped them and the tools that have been beneficial and the strategies that they’ve employed so that it may be something that helps other people. Fantastic. Listen, Jen Silbaugh, thank you so much for being with me today. I appreciate you taking the time. I will put a link into where people can find your book that where they can connect with you on social media. And I appreciate you and I respect your perspective on health care.

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Disclaimer: All opinions expressed by guests on the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast are solely the opinion of the guest. They are not to be misconstrued as medical diagnoses or medical advice. Please consult with a licensed medical professional before attempting any of the treatments suggested.

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