Eric Metcalf, NAMI DuPage’s Director of Peer Support Services, describes his work with NAMI as more than a job, he says it’s a calling. Years ago, Eric believed that he was bound to enter the world of business, but has instead found himself in the role of peer facilitator, recruiter, and trainer of peer talent, and at the heart of a support system for the people who serve them.
Eric’s journey has not been an easy one. Stationed as an Army Specialist in the European Theatre during Operation Enduring Freedom (immediately following the catastrophe of September 11, 2001) Eric was seriously injured in an accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury. Daily he copes with the physical pain of this calamity, also with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Eric is ready and willing to identify himself as a peer and says with conviction that peers who he recruits as counselors, facilitators, mentors, and role models should also be willing to reveal their issues with mental illness. “If you can’t share your story, this is not a place for you,” he says without hesitation.
But it was the crisis of his wife’s unexpected death, three years ago, that shaped the person that Eric has become today. “That pulled the rug out from under me,” he says emphatically. Her demise aggravated his mental illness to the point that he questioned his religious faith and fought with doctors and lawyers for an entire year. By the third year, he had come again to his religious conviction and accepted the bitterness of his experience. This was a year of healing.
That religious conviction had motivated Eric through years as a caseworker, facilitator, and mentor to young homeless adults through a program that emphasized a three-phased curriculum: workforce development, emotional development, and spiritual development. This was David Development Program of Norfolk, Virginia.
At NAMI DuPage, as one of his many roles, Eric is again working with homeless adults through PADS, who, since the Covid crisis, are housed in several local hotels. He is thrilled that soon three locations will have a peer counselor for a few hours each week.
The number of programs that Eric is leading is dizzying. He is a recruiter and trainer of Recovery Support Specialists, to do one-on-one peer counseling with other peers and the Living Room, he is a trained NAMI Connections support group facilitator (a NAMI drop-in support group) an organizer of the new Dual Diagnosis support group, a liaison to PADS, a liaison to a court diversion program (MICAP), a partner with Good Samaritan Hospital and their ER Department, and a link to police departments and first responders.
As another of his goals, Eric envisions creating more services and support groups for the black and brown communities. “They’re underserved,” he explains, “Mental health has no color.”
During his hard times, and as a veteran, Eric found support and services through Hines VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois, where he came upon a flier about NAMI DuPage. He was compelled to go for the peer job. “I applied, and this is where I belong,” he said. “I’m giving back, it’s a win-win.”
profile written by Robert Lundin