A peer support group through Lead With Your Heart has seen more than 20 participants at each of its monthly gatherings since February, including Sonya Byers, left. Those helping offer the program include Shelley Austin, Valerie Hollingsworth, and Laurie Dobbs-White. Missing is Valerie Kingsbury. Raissa Tetanish - Hub Now

TRURO – A new group focusing on the mental wellness of people has been a beneficial tool already for Sonya Byers.

It’s helped get her out of the house and meet new people, and she’s been able to share her story for others.

“There was always something a little different about me,” admitted Byers, a transwoman. “I was picked on a lot, which I found lead to a lot of my generalized anxiety.”

Byers has always had problems with depression and anxiety. Meeting her birth mother about three-and-a-half years ago, she realized there was a history of mental illness and addiction in the family. Byers was needing medication off and on, but things progressively got worse.

While living in California four years ago, things got really bad for the woman.

“My family dissolved, I lost my job, I had a suicide attempt… I just collapsed and checked myself into a psychiatric ward for about a week.”

Byers’ mother visited from Canada and pulled Byers back to Truro. Here, she went through recuperation and learned of the mental wellness peer support group, now under the auspices of Lead With Your Heart.

Anxiety is Byers’ biggest difficulty. She’s on three different mood stabilizers. She’s bipolar and used to cope with alcohol and drugs.

“I need people in my life. I need to work. But it’s getting out that’s difficult,” she said.

Byers is also in therapy where she nurtures her spiritual side.

“I’m doing what’s in my power to make myself better. This group is another tool at my disposal. I’ve been to support groups before but never really felt the love. This is different. This community is coming together and that’s a really strong thing for me.”

There are four women behind the peer support group – Laurie Dobbs-White, Rev. Valerie Kingsbury, Valerie Hollingsworth, and Shelley Austin.

A first meeting in February saw 27 gather and share their needs. From there, they’ve been organizing programming on a monthly basis. Since that first meeting, Austin approached them about having them join with Lead With Your Heart.

“Lead With Your Heart started with art to help those with mental health,” said Austin, adding the mandate is to help those with mental illness. “It seemed to make sense.”

The group originally started after Rev. Kingsbury wrote a blog post surrounding the lack of services in the area when it comes to mental wellness.

Hollingsworth and Dobbs-White wanted to do something and the three hosted the first meeting.

They also host a monthly drumming circle, for women only.

There has been an open mic night, a group discussion around addiction, and even a workshop on mental health where participants created masks using their own faces. The group’s participants are dictating the agenda, which will also see a grief facilitator host a discussion.

“Between the four of us, we have the gift of a lot of those ideas to bring,” said Dobbs-White. “If we don’t, we’re able to find someone to bring in.”

The organizers are hoping to have a hike in the summer, with the hopes of those interested branching off and joining together more often for hiking.

“I would like something maybe once every two weeks. I benefit from it that much,” said Byers.

“For somebody that’s isolated, it’s nice to have something to look forward to,” adding Hollingsworth.

The peer support group meets at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month at the First United Church. All are welcome to just drop in.

“All four leaders are leading from their heart, for love and wellness for others,” Dobbs-White added.

For more information, contact Shelley Austin at 902-956-7184, Valerie Hollingsworth at 902-956-9087, Laurie Dobbs-White at 902-895-2786, or Valerie Kingsbury at 902-324-1615.