Showcasing Members who are a part of the HBA’s United Force for Change
By Jessica Nesterenko
As Mr. Rogers would say, Dr. Adriana Torres-O’Connor is one of the helpers. Her mother was a social worker and her father was an immigrant, having fled Colombia in the 1950s during a time of civil unrest. Through her mother’s stories about working with marginalized individuals and her father’s experiences with underemployment despite his education, she learned the importance of giving back and treating everyone with respect.
Over the span of her 20-year career working as a clinical psychologist in community mental health, Dr. Torres-O’Conner has worked to develop and enhance services that help meet the needs of individuals and families struggling with mental health and addiction challenges. Career highlights include a medication-assisted treatment program for opioid-addicted pregnant and postpartum women and piloting a peer support model of care for autistic youth and adults. Today, Dr. Torres-O’Conner is president and CEO at Mental Health Partnerships.
Mental Health Partnerships was established in 1951, then known as the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Initially, the organization functioned as an advocacy group, fighting for the human rights of people locked away in psychiatric institutions and subjected to inhumane treatment. They helped shape the de-institutionalization movement in the Philadelphia area and across the nation, focusing on a concept of care where people could receive support for recovery in their own communities.
Today, almost seventy years later, the focus has shifted to advocacy, education and services using a peer support model of care. Staff are trained peer support professionals; individuals who integrate their own lived experience, their own successful navigation of recovery, along with wellness tools to partner with and support individuals or families that may be struggling.
Through the shared experience, comes true understanding, respect and empowerment, which is effective in supporting someone in their journey to achieve and maintain sustained recovery. Peer support ensures that no one walks alone on the road to recovery from a mental health or addiction challenge.
“Mental health matters. The struggles of those with mental health challenges are real and the statistics illustrate that mental health and addiction challenges are far more pervasive than people realize.”
Due to recent events, Mental Health Partnerships has seen an increased number of individuals and families seeking their services. Their website text chatline has seen a 30 percent increase in volume since March. The recent protests have brought the injustices and inequalities of the black community into the national spotlight. While necessary to enact reform, these events can also bring up feelings that can cause a re-occurrence of mental health or addiction symptoms. The same can be said for COVID-19; some people are experiencing symptoms for the first time and are feeling lonely and confused and are seeking a supportive person to talk with. If you or someone you know is seeking support, more information can be found on their website.
“MHP with its array of recovery services from recovery learning centers, mobile peer support teams, family peer support groups, workshops/trainings, advocacy and mental health chatline provides high quality, cost effective recovery-oriented services and programs to individuals and families struggling with mental health (including autism) and addiction challenges without judgment and with true understanding.”
Outside of her professional endeavors, Adriana enjoys spending time with family and friends. Gardening, kayaking, ice skating, reading, volunteering and meditating are all activities that she takes pleasure in and contributes to her self-care. Connect with Adriana on LinkedIn or reach out via email. In addition to her role at MHP, Adriana is a proud HBA member, noting that not only is the HBA an organization of amazing professionals, but it is also an organization that recognizes the importance of mental health. By highlighting mental health and being willing to talk about it, the HBA is helping confront the stigma that often surrounds challenges like anxiety, depression and addiction. Adriana’s goal has always been to fight the stigma of mental illness by keeping the conversation going and she is grateful to the HBA for its support.
Jessica Nesterenko is a member of the HBA and volunteers on the marketing committee. She is currently a sales director at PeerDirect, working with pharmaceutical brands on peer to peer educational programs for healthcare professionals.