How to Become a Mental Health Advocate
I get asked this question quite a bit, “How do I become a mental health advocate.” (Or mental illness advocate, or bipolar advocate, or what have you.)
Mostly I think people fall into mental health advocacy. I did. In fact, I never really considered myself a mental health (mental illness) advocate*, I always just considered myself a writer, but people started calling me a mental health advocate, so, I guess I became one.
What is Mental Health Advocacy?
I think advocacy comes down to being a loudmouth for what you think is right. That’s about it. So to be a mental health advocate you just have to have some strong opinions on mental health and a good set of lungs.
How Do I Become a Mental Health Advocate?
Well, that’s up to you; any form of advocacy is beneficial as long as it works for you, but here are some ideas.
1. Advocate for your own mental health.
I put this as number one as it’s the most critical and everyone should be their own mental health advocate. You become your own mental health advocate when you educate yourself about your illness, treatments and surrounding issues and begin to direct your own treatment with the help of your doctor. (Become an e-patient.)
2. Advocate for the mental health of a loved one.
If you have one or more people in your life with a mental illness, become empowered and advocate for their mental health too. Become an empowered advocate by learning all about their mental illness, treatments, desires and support them in their decisions with their healthcare provider.
If you want to be a mental health advocate then get together with other mental health advocates. There are many groups online and in person that advocate for those with mental illness. Do some research and find a group that suits you. Of course, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the biggest one and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is probably the biggest one for support.
4. Express your mental health advocacy.
You can do this in many ways. Any group you join can lead the way, but start petitions, write to political leaders, start a blog, become active in tweetchats and so forth. You can express your views any way you choose.
What to Remember When Becoming a Mental Health Advocate
In short, any way you choose to support those with mental illness – beginning with yourself and moving outward – can help. But keep these things in mind:
- Don’t wear yourself out – you’re no help to anyone else if you’re not well yourself
- Know what you’re doing – know how to talk about mental illness and issues surrounding mental illness (like suicide)
- Remember your experience is not everyone’s – your experience is only one in a myriad
- You’re not a doctor, don’t try to be one – don’t recommend or comment on specific treatments for people unless you’re qualified to do so (and you’ll note those qualified to do so won’t do so online – it’s irresponsible)
- Don’t diagnose others – this isn’t possible with any degree of accuracy, always recommend seeing a professional
- Expect (often nasty) critics – inevitably people will disagree with your views and your mental health advocacy. Try not to engage with these people, ignore personal attacks, and just continue your work professionally.
In short, becoming a mental health advocate is as easy or as hard as you want it to be, but every little bit helps so don’t underestimate your contribution. Remember, touching one person is the goal. Don’t expect to change the whole world; just expect to be the change you want to see in the world.
*I said “mental illness” in brackets because there is some debate on whether one should be called a mental health or mental illness advocate. Allow me to use the former but understand that it also implies the latter.