A compassionate voice that connects with patients

When Raleigh Leggett works with patients struggling with behavioral health issues at the Institute of Living, he thinks back to a day more than 20 years ago when he found his grandmother crying on her bed.

Leggett had lost his infant 8-month-old son in a tragic car crash the year before; a drunk driver had hit the family vehicle that his son was riding in.  Ever since then, he had been drowning his grief in alcohol and drugs, getting into fights and pursuing a path of addiction that had claimed the lives of both his parents. His grandmother, a strong woman who had raised him from the age of six, was scared that he too would wind up dead.

“I never saw my grandmother cry like that, it really shook me up,” said Leggett, 48, who now works as a certified peer specialist for the IOL, providing patients with direct support through the eyes of someone who has been there himself. “I was just 20 years old at the time, but at that moment, I felt like I was 50.”

Despite some periods of relapse, that encounter set Leggett on a course of recovery that has grown stronger the more he dedicates himself to helping others. A graduate of Recovery University, he has earned his certification as a peer support specialist and is set to earn his bachelor’s degree at Springfield College in December. He has remained free of substance abuse for the past six years.

In his role at the IOL, Leggett reports to Nancy Hubbard, LCSW, Director of Outpatient and Ancillary Services, who oversees the IOL’s efforts to utilize the unique advantages that peer specialists have in connecting to patients.

“Raleigh is a terrific example of why peer support specialists are so crucial to our mission,” she said. “Unlike other staff members who work with patients, they have the ability to share lived experience that conveys so much power to someone going through the same thing.”

Reflecting the growing awareness of the value of peer support specialists in behavioral health settings, Leggett serves as a full-time employee who performs a wide variety of roles, including helping patients make the difficult transitions out of discharge or to a new clinical setting.

Leggett said patients frequently tell him they appreciate his observations and support.

“They know I understand on some level what they’re going through, and they can see that I came out alright,” he said. “I tell them that my sole purpose as a human being comes from giving back to others; that’s where all my blessings come from. Many times they understand it, are able to connect, and that’s a great moment.”

Born and raised in Hartford, Leggett is the father of four children – three girls and a boy– and has sole physical custody of two of his daughters. He said he hopes his story sets an example for them and others.