What is a Mental Health Advocate?
The concept behind being an advocate for mental health has been established to encourage the human rights of individuals with mental health illnesses and to alleviate the stigma and discrimination surrounding it. We see a lot of mental illnesses rising on the surface currently, mostly due to the ever-increasing stressful lifestyle factors revolving around people’s lives. In such times, it is important to recognize actions that aim at changing attitudinal and structural barriers that come to getting positive mental health results among people. This is where mental health advocacy can play a positive role.
Advocacy for mental health got a voice when people experiencing mental health disorders got their voices heard. As more and more survivors came to the surface to talk about their experiences and struggles, they started making more contributions towards creating awareness. Gradually, group supports and organizations came to take into account these efforts, which flourished into a more established form of mental health advocacy of what we see today. However, it is important to know that anyone can become a mental health advocate.
The most common Mental Health Advocate
Basically, we learn and spread as much accurate information as possible about mental health and mental illness. Typically, we have goals such as letting others who are struggling know that they are not alone, educating the general public about all types of things – mainly in effort to reduce stigma, helping people in need or crisis. Some of us also participate in creating change in our communities, and legislation.
Though not always the case, many of us often have firsthand experience with mental illness, a family member who has (had) it, or some event close to us such as a suicide occurred which influenced our decision to become involved.
Different larger goals
Some Mental Health Advocates are focused on improving our care. This can be done through multiple ways such as new regulations, additional funding, and adding peer workers to our support system.
There’s another type that feels the need to transform the way we go about everything; change our communities, maybe even change society for better mental health. These may be considered Entrepreneurs.
How to Advocate for Mental Health?
You can create a significant difference and make an improvement in people’s lives having mental illness through your voice to fight against stigma, support others, and raise awareness.
If you want to know how to advocate for mental health, here are some tips you can take into account:
● Gain Perspective
Gain a perspective of the affected individual’s mental health condition. You need to identify the influence their condition is having on their life and what barrier it is creating in their life. When you think about the role depression has in an individual’s life, for example, you can take the conversation around these statements:
Depression does not define you. It is a condition that you have, and with work, we can come out of this even when we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.
You are more than the diagnosis you have. It does not make you, you – rather, it is your skills, personality, compassion, skills, and other things that come as your defining traits and not your depression.
Just like cancer or diabetes, depression is also a real illness with real symptoms that need equal attention, just like physical attention. Just as a diabetic patient needs to take daily steps for monitoring and controlling blood sugar levels, you need to take action to monitor and control the symptoms revolving around depression.
● Share your Journey
Try sharing your mental health process with other people around you. It takes a lot of courage to share your process of struggle and recovery from mental illness, and it is empowering for both you and others. So, it is better to use your story as a fact to prove that stereotypes regarding mental illness are not correct and to motivate others to speak up and to seek help.
● Share Positive Messages
Your job as a mental health advocate is also to help people become comfortable about the process of mental health recovery. It is best to share positive messages regarding mental health, for which you can use different approaches like social media for discussing mental health. This way, you can show your support for other people who do so and then share validated info regarding mental health illness and its treatment.
You also need to get yourself educated about mental health. It will help in the reduction of stigma and improve the environment that surrounds mental illness. Education is regarded as the most powerful tool that you can use for countering any shame that you can feel around your mental health illness and to make sure that other people know what mental illness is.
● Be Conscious
Another thing to be aware of is the language you use. The words you speak have a lasting effect on others. Avoid utilizing hurtful sentiments and words such as “strange” or “crazy” when you talk about yourself or anyone else, even as a joke. Instead of using the phrase “mentally ill,” utilize “people having a mental illness,” and rather than using the phrase “committing suicide,” utilize “died by suicide.”
● Recognize their Identity
Consider someone’s identity unrelated to their mental illness. Perceiving someone as their mental illness diagnosis alleviates the complexity of the experience they are having; their diagnosis should not be the defining factor of the identity.
Support national and local mental health organizations as well as crisis centers. Donate or become a volunteer to organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, or the National Alliance on Mental Health for supporting the life-saving work. Join a support group online or in-person which is available for advocating for people having mental health illnesses.
● Speak when Needed
If you are in suspicion that someone might be in a crisis or is going through a struggle with their mental health, you need to speak up as a mental health advocate, send them messages of support and help them actively in getting whatever help they need. There are a lot of ways to assist if you see anyone posting a status on someone that shows different signs of self-harm. You need to reach out to them or anyone who knows them or find a support helpline for an emergency.
● Take the First Steps
These are all the roles you can play as a mental health advocate. You might decide to sign or start a petition, write to an elected representative, initiate a mental health blog, or spread some mental health awareness in one way or the other. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and various others like that are able to provide different ideas and support for mental health advocacy initiatives.
What Does a Mental Health Advocate Do?
The role of a mental health advocate is dependent on the type of support and the situation they think they can play an active role in – in all those processes, they are here to support your choices.
A mental health advocate is able to:
- Listen to your concerns and views
- Help you to find out your rights and options without pressurizing you
- Give you information to assist you in making well-informed decisions
- Help you get in contact with relevant people or contact them directly on your behalf
- Accompany and support you in appointments and meetings
How to Find a Mental Health Advocate
Finding a mental health advocate is possible by two options – either by looking through a local directory or referring to other people for support. While there are many local organizations that provide services for mental health advocacy to people with mental health illnesses, there are some areas where this facility is limited.
It can get quite tough, especially when you don’t have a lot of people nearby you who can give you support of any kind. If you find yourself in this situation, please know there are other options that you can try:
- There are organizations you can search on the web that will support you to set up group mental health advocacy in your designated area. It may involve people coming with similar experiences of an issue who come together to support one another to have their voices heard.
- If you have people around you whom you can trust with sharing your struggle, you may ask them to be your mental health advocate and seek support when you are not able to do this for yourself. This is important when you consider yourself thinking, “I need a mental health advocate,” and you know for one thing that you can look for external support. Please know that you are not alone in this.
- We acknowledge that sometimes looking for help is the hardest struggle, but these are some of the baby steps you may take to feel more capable of speaking up for yourself.
Why Be a Mental Health Advocate?
As you can see, becoming a mental health advocate is a way to show that you care about mental health and everyone who gets affected by different mental health disorders. For one thing, you know, you can make a big difference in people’s lives by becoming a voice to their pain and struggles. By becoming a mental health advocate, you help them to acknowledge their struggles and find hope in dark times, which helps them to unleash their potential. Think of all the lives you are influencing as you try to show support for someone struggling with their situation.
You too can become a mental health advocate, and the first step to becoming so is to determine you want to create a positive change in someone’s life and play your role in making the world a better place to live in, one step at a time, one smile a day. Your gesture of support could mean the world to someone. It is said: You might think you cannot change the world, but for someone, you have changed their entire world. That is what matters the most.