Each of us is just a life-event away from a mental health crisis. In King County, the Peer Bridger Program helps people who are in crisis transition back to their daily lives.

Jim Vollendroff is the Director of the King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division. He knows the value of life experience in the work he does. He is in recovery himself for substance abuse.

“The county has a philosophy that we can’t build effective programs unless we bring people to the table who’ve actually experienced some of those challenges," Vollendroff said.

And because this is the philosophy behind Peer Bridger -- counselors with life experience in mental illness and substance abuse who are in recovery work with people who have experienced a psychotic break to help them transition back to the real world.

Topher Jerome started the program at Harborview Medical Center five years ago. He’s now the program supervisor with a deep understanding of the people it serves. He also has a history of mental illness and substance abuse. He spent years in and out of psychiatric hospitals and knows, exactly, what it means to feel lost and alone.

“There’s something incredibly magical when you can sit with somebody who’s struggling and say 'I get it. I’ve been there,'" Jerome said.

Both Jerome and Vollendroff say they hear over and over again that the program has saved lives. They say the proof is in the numbers.

“We see people who aren’t going back to the h hospital, or who are going back … and staying for shorter periods of time.

King County currently has 130 peer counselors and is hoping to expand the Peer Bridger Program statewide.