Chacku Mathai is an Indian-American, born in Kuwait, who became involved in mental health and addiction recovery advocacy when he was only 15 years old. Chacku’s personal experiences with trauma, suicide and disabling mental health and substance use challenges as a youth and young adult in Rochester, New York launched Chacku and his family towards a number of efforts to advocate for improved services, social conditions and alternative supports in the community.
He has since accumulated over thirty years of experience in behavioral health systems in a wide variety of roles such as youth leadership and community organizing, executive and board management and behavioral health infrastructure development.
He is currently in roles such as the President for Friends of Recovery – New York, a statewide coalition of people in recovery from addiction and as a board member for the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy. He is a National Advisory Council member for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health in Texas and the National Center on Advancing Person-Centered Practices and Systems. Chacku serves on several advisory boards for key research initiatives at Boston, Columbia, Lesley and Rutgers universities. Chacku is also an appointed member of the New York State Integrated Block Grant Committee.
Chacku’s most recent executive leadership roles with the Mental Health Association of Rochester, STAR Center, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services offer an unparalleled mix of experiences developing trauma-informed, person-centered, and culturally congruent infrastructure with local communities, community-based organizations, large healthcare systems, as well as multiple state, territory, and tribal governments across the country.
Chacku is regularly invited to train and consult across the United States on achieving health equity, social determinants of health, building collaborations across communities and systems, peer support, cultural congruence, employment and economic self-sufficiency, leadership, suicide prevention, crisis intervention, systems advocacy and implementing exemplary, integrated practices in supporting people to live, learn, work and play in the most integrated, meaningful, and self-directed roles.
Although I was a bit tired after a one hour keynote presentation in Texas, in this brief episode of Into the Fold, I offer that peer support's ultimate purpose is systems transformation and social change. Drawing on lessons learned from our predecessors in the survivor movement, such as Shery Mead, creator of Intentional Peer Support and the indigenous wisdom of Lilla Watson from Australia, I reflect on the inherent challenges of integrating peer support and its role in creating consciousness about power throughout the health care delivery system.