Author Archives: Shannah Mulvihill

Mental Health Minnesota receives grant for ‘Steps to Employment’ program

Mental Health Minnesota has received an $80,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to support peer-to-peer groups for people living with a serious mental illness who are interested in seeking employment. The grant is part of nearly $950,000 recently awarded as a part of a new disability services innovations grants program to support people with disabilities in the community.

Approximately one in 17 people live with a serious mental illness, and for many, symptoms of their illness have made employment difficult or nearly impossible. In fact, the unemployment rate for people living with serious mental illness (SMI) is more than 80%. Many have goals related to employment, but barriers remain to securing and maintaining employment, as well as being successful in their employment goals in both the short and long term.

“We know that meaningful employment can play an incredibly important role in mental health recovery,” said Shannah Mulvihill, executive director. “We believe that additional assistance and resources as people living with serious mental illness enter the workforce could be instrumental in their success and ensure that they truly have an equal opportunity in employment.”

The “Steps to Employment” groups will provide a unique peer-to-peer approach to employment readiness, addressing topics such as establishing realistic goals, addressing barriers, stress management, self-care, working as part of a team, handling conflict, and more. The groups will be facilitated by Certified Peer Support Specialists, will be time-limited (eight hours total), and are intended to serve as a complement to other employment programs and services offered across the state. The program’s peer-to-peer approach will help ensure that a comfortable, safe environment exists for people seeking support from others, as well as some of the “soft skills” needed to ensure that they are truly successful in their work.

“We are lucky to have many employment programs across Minnesota for people living with disabilities, but there are very few opportunities for a peer-to-peer approach used in employment, especially related to mental health,” said Mulvihill. “Living with a serious mental illness creates unique challenges to successful employment, and who knows that better than those who have found a way to conquer those obstacles?”

Mental Health Minnesota will be seeking partnering organizations that serve clients who could benefit from this program. The groups will be offered at no-cost, given the grant support received. Please contact Kim Lutes, Mental Health Minnesota’s program manager, at for more information.

Peers in Action: Ryan Rasmussen

This month, we interviewed Ryan Rasmussen, who works as a Certified Peer Support Specialist. Ryan discusses how employment played a part in his recovery journey, and what led him to his decision to pursue a career as a Peer Support Specialist.

Ryan, what led you to pursue a career as a Certified Peer Support Specialist?

Several aspects of my life led me to the decision to become a Peer Support Specialist. Over the course of individual therapy work, my therapist suggested it could be a career path I might enjoy and be fulfilled in.

After looking into it, I decided that becoming a Peer Support Specialist would be a good recovery goal for myself, and further help me maintain my own recovery.

I also believed that I was capable of helping others with my own lived experiences of trauma, addiction, homelessness, and extreme poverty. Becoming a Peer Support Specialist provided an avenue for me to do that, and be a living message of hope for others.

How has employment played a role in your recovery process? Have there been things that are difficult about going back to work?

Employment has been a significant cornerstone of my recovery process. It has helped me feel that I am valuable within society, and enabled me to reach and obtain goals along the way, a crucial aspect of my own recovery. Initially in recovery, I worked on a clean and sober construction crew, in restaurants, and finally began my career as a Peer Support Specialist.

Through working my way up from part time work at a Warmline speaking to people living with mental illness over the phone, to working at a Community Support Program, I began to work my way up and reach significant goals along the way. Currently, I have full-time employment working with the homeless population. Each goal I have achieved on my journey through the employment process has strengthened my recovery and enabled me to become more engrained in the recovery process of the clients I work with. It has been incredibly rewarding to me to be able to be a positive influence on the communities I serve.

Although gratifying, the process of finding and maintaining employment has not been without obstacles for me. It has been hard to find a balance between building a career while also working to rebuild my personal life in recovery. Work can also be stressful, and can sometimes be a place where potential triggers exist. Maintaining a job with severe and persistent mental illness can be challenging, yet the rewards far outweigh the challenges I have encountered.

Do you have any advice for someone who is in recovery and considering going back to work?

Based on my own experience, people in recovery who are considering returning to work should be aware of the challenges or barriers that may exist, make a plan involving realistic goals related to employment, and seek support in whatever aspects they may struggle with during that process.

Support may include others in their life or even third-party organizations that help people get back into the workforce. If possible, I believe that people should wait until they are truly ready and have a strong foundation in their recovery.

What advice do you have for someone considering a career as a Certified Peer Support Specialist?

Being a Peer Support Specialist is a very fulfilling career path. If someone is considering pursuing this path, they should first research the process involved in becoming a Certified Peer Specialist, and have a strong desire to be willing to utilize their own lived experiences to help others.

Individuals interested in this career should ask themselves, “Do I want to get into a career that is primarily based around helping others with similar issues I have experienced?” If so, this may be a very positive, life-changing career for that person.

Ask the Advocate: Where Can I Find Employment Support?

You ask, our advocates answer. This month, Suzanne discusses the benefits of employment and how to find supportive employment services.

Priscilla called Mental Health Minnesota to speak with me about looking for a job, and returning to work after having spent so much time not working over the past decade. Not unlike others who are out of the workforce for a while, Priscilla had concerns about going back to work. Through a series of questions and answers we discussed what her goals were for employment and created a plan of action. She was interested in returning to work as a personal care attendant. She wanted to maintain her recovery. She preferred to not disclose her disability to her employer. She was interested in having more spending money but she did not want to lose her social security benefits or her health care insurance. We discussed how it would be possible for her work part time and still receive some economic benefits and for her medical assistance to continue.

I suggested she contact the nearest workforce center. At the workforce center Priscilla will have free access to classes, computers and counselors who can help her with the nuts and bolts of searching for jobs, writing her resume and cover letters, and learning how to interview for a job. She will be able to get direct feedback from her assigned counselor on how to “handle” the extended unemployment question. After our conversation, Priscilla felt more confident about the steps she needed to take to begin looking for employment.

What are some of the benefits of employment?

The benefits of employment are much more than simply money. These benefits include: 1)improved self esteem, 2) increased social and quality of life, 3) better control of symptoms, and 4) reduced substance abuse. In fact, studies have shown that working can actually improve your mental health helping to spur on recovery.

What kind of supportive employment services are available?

Anyone can use the workforce centers which are one stop shop locations. Most of the services are free. There are 13 workforce centers in the Twin Cities and 36 workforce centers in greater Minnesota. Each workforce center offers a wealth of self-help information on preparing for and finding jobs, computers you can use, and trained staff to assist.   Some workforce centers even have employment counselors who work specifically with people living with mental illness.

Click here to view a list of workforce centers in Minnesota.

My case manager suggested I receive IPS services. What is IPS?

Individual placement and support, or IPS, is an evidence based program that assists people living with serious mental illness to quickly seek and maintain employment. IPS is a team based program with a vocational rehabilitation counselor, employment specialist and mental health care provider. Your team will help guide you to “competitive employment” which is defined as employment in the community open to all others that pays a competitive wage. Once employed, the members on your team will help you to address issues that arise so that you have the support you need to maintain working.

How do I sign up for IPS Services?

You can receive a referral from your case manager. If you do not have a case manager then you will need a referral from a therapist or psychiatrist to the IPS community rehabilitation provider in your county. While all seven metro area counties have IPS programs, the program is not found in all counties in greater Minnesota.


If you need assistance in finding how to locate your IPS community rehab provider or how to access supportive employment services, please call Mental Health Minnesota at 651-493-6634 and ask to speak with a Peer Advocate.





Peers in Action: Mary Richards

This month, we interviewed Mary Richards, who leads a Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) group in St. Paul.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, and what led you to begin volunteering as a support group leader?

I am a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) survivor. I had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck 66 years ago when I was born, and I have dealt with the resulting brain injury all of my life. As an adult, I began to experience depression related to my TBI. I was in counseling for both my depression and brain injury, and my mental health provider suggested that I start attending support groups in addition to therapy.

In 1997, I began attending a Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) group in St. Louis Park. The facilitators of the group, Bobby and Sue, began to train some of the group members to become facilitators as well.

I became a DBSA group facilitator, and also completed a Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) support group facilitator training.

After I completed the trainings, I began filling in as the facilitator for the St. Louis Park group that I attended, and then I became one of the lead facilitators of a new DBSA support group in St. Paul.

Today, I also do data entry work, I’m president of a self-advocacy council, and I’m also on the TBI advisory council that advises the Department of Human Services. I was appointed to the TBI advisory council in 2014.

Wow, so you have been a support group leader for quite some time!

Yes, for just about 20 years – I started facilitating St. Paul DBSA group in the late 90s.

What do you think peer-to-peer support groups contribute to a person’s recovery? What is unique about the peer-to-peer model?

Well, a peer-led support group means that there are no professionals, such as psychiatrists or therapists, involved. During peer-to-peer support groups, we do not focus on giving advice. We just share our own personal experiences, and can relate to each other because we often experience similar symptoms. Even if members of the group do not have the same diagnosis, we can often relate to each other’s symptoms. For example, I can often relate to people who have experienced memory loss due to medication or ECT, because I experience memory loss from my brain injury.

We honor each person as an individual, are non-judgmental, do not analyze symptoms, and only give feedback or advice if a person specifically asks us. We are not trying to provide treatment, but rather to share what we are going through, and connect with each other on a personal level.

We also sometimes share resources that we have found to be helpful such as the Minnesota Warmline, county crisis lines, homelessness resources, and 211.

Has leading a support group contributed to your own recovery journey?

I would say yes, it has. It has helped me become an active member of my community and allowed me to give back to my community. Being social, having relationships, and building community is an important part of recovery. Being a support group leader has inspired me to volunteer in other ways and join other social groups.

I used to volunteer at the Humane Society combing cats. There is also a website called that has given me all kinds of ideas for joining different groups. Through, I joined a card club and a diabetes support group. I am also part of a brain injury support group.

The St. Paul DBSA support group has also led to other social meet ups. A member from the group started a “share and get out of the house” group that meets at Caribou Coffee in the evenings and people just sit and talk with each other. It’s a place to be together when the group doesn’t meet.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about starting a support group in their community?

I would suggest attending an existing support group or attending multiple support groups, just to get some experience watching how the other facilitators operate the groups. It is also important to attend support groups just to gain an understanding of how they work, and how each group’s guidelines work. When you start your own support group, establish the purpose of the group and outline the guidelines.

Mental Health Minnesota offers support group facilitator training if you are interested in starting a support group in your community.

Apply to volunteer as a support group leader here!


Ask the Advocate: How Can I Build a Support Network?

People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. – Barbara Streisand


You ask, our advocates answer. This month our peer advocate, Suzanne, discusses the importance of having a community support network.


A critical element of recovery is building a community to support us as we journey down this road of healing and restoration. A successful recovery requires us to connect and accept help from others. We cannot do recovery alone.


The federal government through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has identified four dimensions that support a life in recovery. These four dimensions are health, home, purpose, and community. Today, I want to focus on community, which is defined as “having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love and hope.”  Our network enables us to be supported in many different ways by many different people for many different needs.


Recently, I spoke with Sandy. She called the Peer Advocacy line feeling very lonely and bored with life. She asked what she could do to change this situation. Sandy is not unlike others who call our Warmline or Peer Advocacy line who feel too isolated. Reaching out to ask the question is the first step in creating community. So how could Sandy create her own community support network?


We first discussed whether she was interested in having social connections with other people recovering from a mental illness. I identified a drop-in center close to where she lived that she could check out. A drop-in center is place that people living with a mental illness can go to socialize and participate in activities such as book clubs or cooking classes. Many drop in centers also provide other types of community support services, such as housing support and employment support.


I asked her if she prefers connecting with others through similar interests? I told her about Meet Up,, which is a large internet organization comprised of many different kinds of groups based on a shared interest, like playing board games or learning a new language. I said I knew this was a fast way to meet new people, because I have joined fun meetup groups, myself.


Next we discussed whether she was interested in working one day. I mentioned how having a structured life when you’re employed can help with loneliness and boredom, and to push forward recovery. We discussed how volunteering can be a bridge to employment. We discussed her interest in various causes that could serve as a basis for selecting a volunteer opportunity. I referred her to, which is a website that matches volunteers with organizations. They have opportunities for all kinds of causes.


And lastly, we discussed joining a support group. I discovered that she lives close to a Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) group, so I provided her with contact information. I also told her about Mental Health Minnesota’s peer-led Support Groups for Recovery and Wellness that are open to anyone who is experiencing a mental health struggle. I suggested online support groups if she is more comfortable connecting through the web. I also mentioned the Minnesota Warmline which provides social connection and support on the telephone.


After our conversation, Sandy felt some relief and hope. She is going address her loneliness and boredom by starting to build her community support network.


If you would like to talk about building your community support network, you can call Mental Health Minnesota at 651-493-6634, and schedule an appointment to speak with a Peer Advocate.

Mental Health Minnesota to offer online support groups

Mental Health Minnesota is expanding its support group program! Beginning in May, two peer-led Support Groups for Recovery and Wellness will be offered online. Online groups will meet every week and will be held on Tuesday evenings, beginning on May 8, from 7:00 – 8:30 PM and Saturday mornings, beginning on May 12, from 10:00 – 11:30 AM.


“Support groups can provide a wonderful opportunity for people to connect with others as they work on their recovery, and we are continuing to build out more and more groups as an organization,” said Shannah Mulvihill, executive director. “We are hoping that the addition of online groups will open up that opportunity to more people who may not be able to attend in person due to distance from a group, transportation, or other barriers to engaging with a group. It also acknowledges that a growing number of people prefer online options to connecting with others.”


Recovery and Wellness support groups are designed to foster an environment of inclusiveness and belonging. Group facilitators are peers – people who have personal experience living with a mental illness. Peer-to-peer support lends a unique connection, creates a safe space, and serves as a catalyst for hope.


“As a peer-led support group, not a therapy group, our goal is to share ideas and feelings. Our hope is that you will find our groups a safe place to learn and grow through shared experiences, mutual support and respect,” said Frank Dorsey, Support Group Program Coordinator.


All peer-led Support Groups for Recovery and Wellness are free and open to anyone who is experiencing a mental health struggle. Online support groups will require registration and be run via secure video conferencing software that is compatible with computers, tablets, and smartphones.



Mental Health Minnesota also offers in-person Support Groups for Recovery and Wellness, as well as Depression and Bipolar Alliance support groups. These groups are drop-in groups and do not require any registration.


Peers in Action: Kim Lutes

This month, we interviewed Kim Lutes, who was concerned about a proposed bill and took action. She recently testified against the bill at a Minnesota House of Representatives committee hearing.

Kim, why did you decide to testify at the Legislature?

There was a bill before the House of Representatives that would have made changes to civil commitment, including requiring law enforcement to take some people living with mental illness into custody if they missed their weekly doctor appointments.  As someone living with a mental health diagnosis, I knew that this type of heavy-handed approach to mental health care would not work, and that it would be in violation of people’s civil rights.  I knew that the reason I was able to move into recovery from my illness was because I had mental health providers who saw me as a person of integrity and built trusting relationships with me.  Knowing first hand how important it is to feel respected and supported by mental health providers, I felt that it was my duty as a citizen to speak out against this harmful bill.

What was it like to testify in front of your elected officials?

It was scary.  I had five minutes to say what I wanted to say.  I wrote my testimony out ahead of time and practiced it in front of the mirror.  But it was challenging, because legislators are not always careful about how they talk about issues related to mental illness.  The language some of them used was surprisingly antiquated and based on old stereotypes.  I hadn’t prepared myself for that, so I felt a bit offended at times.  But, I felt good about what I had to say because it came from my life experience.  I also felt good because merely by being there and sharing my expertise, I was challenging those old stereotypes.

Aren’t there advocates out there who speak on behalf of people living with mental illness?  Why didn’t you just let them do the work?

There are a lot of advocates at the Capitol trying to make sure that those of us who live with a mental health diagnosis get good care.  They are usually family members, friends or providers of mental health care.  I appreciate the work they do.  They are the people who were there for me when I was sick.  But, when it comes to truly understanding what it is like to live day to day with a mental illness, the people who are the true experts are the people who actually live with a mental illness.  We are the people who know first hand what works and what doesn’t.

Therefore, I felt that in order to make a good case against the bill, someone needed to talk about what it is actually like to live with a mental illness.  The unique perspective of someone living with mental illness is often missing in public conversation.

You say that the perspective of someone with lived experience is often missing?  What do you mean by that?

When conversations about how mental health services are delivered in our state take place, people living with mental illness are rarely at the table.  I think the reason for this is the perception that people with mental illness are not able to speak for themselves, or are too impaired to effectively be a part of those conversations.  This perception is false.  People living with mental illness are able to add an invaluable perspective to conversations.  They are the experts.

I have found that since there are few opportunities for people like me who have lived experience to give input into important decisions, we need to sometimes invite ourselves to the table.  That is why I signed up to testify against this bill that was being discussed by my elected officials.

I believe that it is important to point out that everyone living with a mental health diagnosis is unique, and that their experiences and perspectives are unique, too.

One voice of lived experience at the table is not enough.  We need lots of people to be willing to speak up.

What are other ways people who live with mental illness can participate in public policy discussions?

  • Anyone can call, email, or schedule a meeting with their representatives to voice their concerns! Find out who represents you here:
  • Almost every county in Minnesota has a local citizens mental health advisory council.  Check with your county to see if there are openings, and apply to be appointed.
  • The State of Minnesota also has a variety of citizen advisory councils related to mental health.  You can check with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office for a list of openings.
  • Occasionally, the Department of Human Services or counties hold listening sessions to get feedback from citizens about issues related to mental illness.  When those are announced, take the opportunity to participate and give your perspective.

Ask the Advocate: How Can I Be an Advocate for Myself?

Meet Arthur: he is a person who lives with a mental illness and a physical illness. Like many of our callers, he expressed a need for more help in his home. Arthur and I talked at great length about his needs and what resources were possibly available to him.

At Mental Health Minnesota, we encourage our callers to advocate for themselves so that they realize the rewards of taking action. As the peer advocate, I wanted Arthur to feel the power that comes from self determination and successful resolution. Together we created a plan and Arthur set out to accomplish it.

Arthur wanted to apply for the CADI program so that he could have PCA services covered by his health care plan. He called the county social services intake line and requested an application. The next step required him to fill out the application and send in the appropriate supporting documentation.

Initially Arthur was turned down for the program. Rather than appeal the denial, which was Arthur’s first instinct, we discussed the quicker possibility of reapplying again given that things had recently changed in his life. He reapplied and this time was granted approval.

Today Arthur has help in his home so that his needs are being adequately met for him to remain living in the community. And the best part of all: Arthur advocated for himself!

Advocating for yourself is an important part of mental health recovery. Self-advocacy is an important skill for everyone, but can be challenging to do. It takes time, planning, and support. At Mental Health Minnesota, our Peer Advocates often coach or support people in self-advocacy.

Here are some steps you or a loved one can take to become an effective self-advocate:

1. When you are faced with an issue, concern, or barrier, evaluate the situation. Think about what your goals are and what you would like the outcome to be.

2. Even though you are advocating for yourself, you do not have to do it alone. Reach out to your support network and ask them for feedback. You can also contact Mental Health Minnesota and speak with a Peer Advocate.

3. Explore your options. Consider some possible solutions for the issue at hand. Think about what you can do on your own, and what you might need some help with.

4. Start to develop a plan of action. Break down the things you need to do into small, manageable steps, rather than trying to accomplish everything all at once.

5. As you are developing your plan, stay organized. Write down questions you have, gather relevant documents, and track your progress by taking notes. Keep records of the organizations and people that you contact.

6. When it is time to advocate for yourself, be prepared. Bring notes with you, or have them in front of you if you are talking on the phone. Articulate your concern clearly and calmly. Remember to be as concise as possible while explaining your concern – try to keep all details relevant to the issue at hand.

More than 500 people attend 2018 Mental Health Day on the Hill

More than 500 people attended this year’s Mental Health Day on the Hill, held on March 15, 2018. People came from across the state to attend the annual rally and meet with their legislators.

The theme this year addressed parity and equity for mental health. While great strides have been made in building Minnesota’s mental health system, there is still significant work to do to truly have parity and equity for mental health treatment and services.

“Despite so many years of work, mental illness is still treated very differently from physical illness, especially when it comes to early recognition and treatment of symptoms,” said Shannah Mulvihill, Mental Health Minnesota’s executive director.

This year, the Mental Health Legislative Network, which sponsors Mental Health Day on the Hill, also set up an information room in the Capitol after the rally so that people attending could find out who their legislators were and how to find them. More than 50 people visited the information room and then went to see their legislators, in addition to many people who had set up legislative meetings.

“We were really happy to see so many people visiting their legislators this year in addition to attending the rally,” said Mulvihill. “It’s so important for our elected officials to hear directly from their constituents that mental health is important to them.”

Didn’t make it to Mental Health Day on the Hill this year? You can still take action! Reach out to your legislators to share your story and your concerns. Don’t know who represents you? Click here to find out! And remember, Mental Health Minnesota’s Ambassador Program also provides training and opportunities to influence public policy as well!

FOX 9 (3/15/18): “Advocates: ‘Mental Health Can No Longer Be Treated Like a 2nd Cousin in Health Care”

View photos from Mental Health Day on the Hill here!

Mental Health Day on the Hill to be held on March 15, 2018

Mental Health Day on the Hill is just around the corner!

This year’s Mental Health Day on the Hill is coming up on Thursday, March 15, 2018. This year’s theme addresses parity and equity for mental health. We’ve made great strides in building Minnesota’s mental health system, but there is still a great deal of work to do to truly have parity and equity for mental health treatment and services.

Join us at this year’s Mental Health Day on the Hill to learn about the issues, talk to your legislators, and make your voice heard at the rally!

Mental Health Day on the Hill will begin with an issue briefing at the Cedar Street Armory in St. Paul at 9:30 AM. We will then move to the Capitol Rotunda for a rally from 11 AM to 12 PM, and then spend the afternoon visiting with legislators (Please make appointments in advance as much as possible). Not sure who represents you? Click here to find out. Volunteers will also be available to help you find your legislators if you’re not sure where to go.

Need a ride? Free bus transportation is available across the state so you can attend Mental Health Day on the Hill. Check out the routes and register online here.

Interested in learning more about lobbying and what YOU can do to make your voice heard this legislative session? Register here for our ‘Lobbying Simplified’ webinar on Monday, March 12, from 5:30 – 6:30 PM!

Mental Health Day on the Hill is sponsored by the Mental Health Legislative Network. For questions or more information, please contact:

Mental Health Minnesota – — 1-800-862-1799

NAMI Minnesota – — 1-888-NAMI HELPS