Living Well

Summer 2020

Integral Care’s peer support specialists have lived experience with mental illness or substance use disorder. In this newsletter, they share stories about recovery and offer hope for tomorrow.

Lead Editor: Nathaniel Hall, Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Team Peer Support Specialist

An Interview with Valerie Milburn

Valerie is a recovery & mental health advocate, NAMI Central Texas volunteer, Communities for Recovery board member.


Nathaniel: What type of work do you do for NAMI Central Texas?


Valerie: I have been a volunteer for NAMI Central Texas for seven years. I am a Peer-to-Peer class leader and state trainer. NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer class is a free, eight-week class for adults living with a mental health condition. It meets for two hours a week, and provides education, information, skills, and strategies for navigating a healthy and productive life with the challenges of a mental health condition. It is a powerful course that I love leading, and have led it six times.

I’m passionate about my other work with NAMI Central Texas as well. I’m an In Our Own Voice presenter in numerous community and workplace settings, and an Ending the Silence presenter in schools. I also present to law enforcement audiences, where I tell my mental health journey in order to share the hope of recovery and break down the stigma associated with mental illness.


Nathaniel: How does this relate to peer support services in our community?


Valerie: Overall, NAMI Central Texas provides many forms of peer support for the mental health community. This support includes classes and support groups for peers; a comprehensive resource guide; community, school, and workplace presentations; monthly community meetings; and support groups and classes for families and loved ones of those living with a mental health condition.

My individual peer role with NAMI Central Texas allows me to share my own mental health journey and the life I now live in recovery. By sharing with peers, the strategies and skills that allow me to live a happy and healthy life, I offer hope to my peers who are still struggling. Peer support also keeps those of us in recovery on a healthy path. For me, support is important in my life-long work of mental health recovery.


Nathaniel: Can you talk about your own experience with mental health issues; and the evolution of your recovery?


Valerie:  Not only can I talk about my experience and recovery, it is imperative that I do so, for two reasons.  First, by sharing my mental health journey and recovery, knowing that it gives others hope and knowledge, I give meaning and value to my own struggles.  Second, openly sharing that I have bipolar disorder and substance use disorder, I help end the silence that surrounds mental illness.  I believe silence is the main contributor to stigma, and breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental illness is one of my life goals.


Nathaniel: Do peer support specialist services really impact and help people to the point that it changes lives?


Valerie:  Peer support specialist services do indeed impact and help people to the point that these services change lives.  Recovery is about connection, and a peer can connect with another peer with an understanding like no other.  Sharing a common journey, with one peer showing another that living a stable, healthy and productive life is possible as part of that journey, offers a tangible hope.  This is life-changing.


Nathaniel: Why is it important for the community to know that peer support specialist services make a significant contribution to the system of mental health programs?


Valerie: Community understanding will bring funding, increased services, better access and – most importantly – more people onto the path to recovery.

Peer Support


“My peer support specialist provided me with hope, helped me with the goals and aspirations that I really wanted to make progress with, and taught me to never give up in the most difficult times of my life. I felt like I was listened to by someone who really understood.” – Integral Care client


Integral Care recognizes the importance of peer support specialist services, and applauds the outcomes the work produces for clientele. Our peer support specialist services are evolving and will continue to evolve within the agency. There are currently 21 peer support specialists working for Integral Care, within the Mood Treatment Center, the C.A.R.E. program, Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), the Ombudsman (client rights office), the Rundberg Clinic, the HOST Team, the Terrace at Oak Springs location, the East 2nd Clinic and many more programs and service locations.

Roasted Vegetable & Smashed Avocado Quesadilla

This recipe provides high fiber from the whole grain tortillas, vegetables and avocado. It has a protein boost from the cheese, bean and/or chicken.


Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 2 whole wheat or corn tortillas
  • 4 oz cheese of choice, thinly sliced (pepper jack works great)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 avocado, mashed
  • Optional protein boost: chopped or shredded cooked chicken or black beans



Sauté bell peppers and onions in olive oil, salt, and pepper over medium heat (or broil for 10-15 min for extra charring)

Spray skillet with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat. Put tortilla in skillet, add pepper jack slices, then peppers and onions. Spread smashed avocado over the second tortilla. Then place (avocado side facing down) on the cheese and pepper mixture.

Once the tortilla is golden brown on the first side, flip the quesadilla over to the other side and cook until the second is golden.


Adapted from: Ambitious Kitchen

Living with Hope

By Nathaniel Hall


There are times in life when we must recognize the necessity of having courage to keep moving forward in the midst of tough times and having difficulty with hope. Each day that goes by will not always be embedded with struggles. Having a mental illness does not necessarily mean that one has a ticket to an endless collection of clouded times under a rainstorm that seems to have no sunshine at its conclusion. Many are overwhelmed by the impairment of their symptoms. Many are faced with challenges that come with the dysfunction and disability of mental illness.


Recovery from mental illness can be beautiful in its complexities. A “voice” or a “vision” may be something that emerges out of mental illness and may prove to be a tool that helps others who are beginning their journey towards mental wellness. Mental illness may pause even for the briefest of moments, and a beam of light, however dim it may be, will open the doors of living life. To build on this is the key to recovery from mental illness and with each “building block” you may find insight, inner strength, perspective, and the ability to progress towards your hopes and dreams.


Resiliency and courage become a necessity to focus on our future, as there is so much more to experience and so much more life to live – in happiness. Living with hope helps us to realize that we can regain all that was lost, and maybe even accomplish things that we never thought were possible. If you hold on to your dreams, there will be sunshine on your recovery horizons. Keep moving forward on a path to happier times.


Artist: Alyse Ruriani

Community Forum Recap – How the Power of Lived Experience Changes Lives

The recent Community Forum included several panelists from different agencies in Austin. The panel focused on the power of how people who have lived experience with mental illness and/or substance use disorder can use this experience to help others shape their recovery journey in a variety of settings and contexts.


Deborah Rosales-Elkins with Integral Care led the forum. Shannon Carr, Executive Director for Austin Area Mental Health Consumers, was a panel member. Valerie Milburn with NAMI Central Texas added her perspective with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder knowledge. Nidia Heston with Via Hope offered her insight as a family member and Certified Family Partner. Mackenzie Ulum, a student with UT Austin brought the point of view of peer support for those making difficult transitions from high school to college.


All of the forum panelists shared their personal stories and lived experience. The perspective of someone living with mental illness, someone living with co-occurring issues, someone living with a family member with behavioral health challenges, and someone living with difficult emotions caused by making the transition from high school to college, were all addressed.


The concepts of the value and validity of lived experience was a common theme, as well as the mutuality, advocacy, and mentoring that people with lived experience offer to people who are struggling with an array of issues and in a variety of contexts and settings.


The Community Forum really did an outstanding job focusing on the need to fight stigma in society, to promote community awareness, to bring people together, that coping with unsettling situations is possible, and that you are not alone! To  watch a recording, go to

Want to contribute?

We’re accepting submissions for future issues of Living Well. Share your creative writing, artwork or personal story of recovery with us. Please send submissions to We can’t wait to hear from you! Please note: unfortunately, not all submissions will be printed.



Certification programs for peer specialists and family partners (parents or guardians with lived experience raising a child with mental, emotional or behavioral health challenges)|


Self-Help and Advocacy Center (SHAC)

A supportive environment to learn and grow, operated by people living with mental illness | | 3205 South 1st Street


NAMI Central Texas

Free classes and support groups for people affected by mental illness and their loved ones |

Call us to learn how we can help you

To learn more about our programs for children
and families, call us at 512-472-HELP (4357).

We’re here Monday through Friday, from 8am to 5pm. Press 1 for English, then 3. Integral Care can also connect you to trusted community resources.

About Integral Care

We support adults and children living with mental illness, substance use disorder and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Our services include a 24-hour helpline for anyone who needs immediate support, ongoing counseling to improve mental health, drug and alcohol treatment to help with recovery, and housing to regain health and independence.