Advocates for mental health have contributed significantly to an increase in mental health awareness. Mental health refers to our overall emotional, cognitive, and relational well-being. It involves caring for ourselves and others and overcoming challenges to thrive. But, it is essential and should be supported.
To help those facing mental issues, we must first be able to support ourselves. We must accept ourselves unconditionally, remain committed to our well-being, and respect ourselves even in difficult times.
What Is a Mental Health Advocate?
An advocate for mental health speaks up for those struggling with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. As a mental health advocate, you aim to promote support and encouragement as you learn to look after your mental well-being (and that of others) and share your experiences.
These professionals provide a voice for those with mental illnesses and their support system. Advocates are there to listen, represent, stand by, and fight for them.
Qualities of a Mental Health Advocate
Here are some important qualities of a mental health advocate:
Mental health advocates understand mental issues, conditions, and related healthcare services and work collaboratively with patients and families to maintain, improve, and oversee appropriate treatment goals. A knowledgeable health advocate is well-versed in the mental health field, able to identify and understand the signs and symptoms of various mental health issues, and familiar with community resources that can help those in need.
These professionals provide various mental health services to patients of all ages and their families. These services include diagnostic evaluation and assessment, case planning, treatment and guidance, crisis intervention, discharge planning, risk management, family education and referral, and psychiatric management.
Compassionate means being understanding and kind to those needing mental health support. A compassionate mental health advocate can empathize with the individual and create a warm, non-judgmental environment where the person can share their story and feelings. These conversations may appear similar to those of a close friend or loved one to the affected person, but coming from a qualified professional, the process contains some profound differences.
A friend or loved one can be vitally important in the life of someone experiencing mental health issues. They can become part of a support network of individuals intimately connected with the sufferer’s life. They can be on hand after a hard day or provide light relief through fun activities and diversions. Friends are also invaluable sources of support simply through listening and providing a shoulder to lean on.
These are all hugely impactful ways that an ally can care for those close to them and provide support. However, it is important to recognize that providing this support or being the only one to do so can have profound impacts on an ally’s mental health and well-being. It is important to avoid burnout or relationship stress, that their boundaries are clearly outlined, and that other forms of help are made available to those battling mental illness.
In this light, trained professionals can play a big role in providing support and help. Having someone to whom people can speak who will remain impartial and confidential is incredibly valuable for many people with mental health issues, who often struggle not only with poor mental health but attendant feelings of guilt, shame, and fear that they are upsetting or burdening those closest to them. A mental health advocate might not express sympathy like a friend does. Still, an advocate can provide compassionate and practical support through active listening and providing non-judgmental insight.
Mental health advocates must be respectful to all people, regardless of their mental health diagnosis. This includes treating them like any other individual instead of seeing them as problems to be solved.
Mistreating a person due to a mental health diagnosis is unacceptable but, unfortunately, is quite common and comes in many forms. People who share their mental health struggles often face criticism or shame from those around them. This criticism is not always intentional. However, these unconscious beliefs about mental ill-health can cause people to struggle alone with their problems rather than seek the help they need.
It is, therefore, important to break stigmas around mental health in your everyday life and to communicate that people deserve respect. Appreciating individual differences is the key to building empathy and understanding between people. This, in turn, is key to helping someone whose life and experiences may differ greatly from yours.
Mindfulness is being aware and present at the moment and understanding one’s emotional state without judgment.
Mindfulness allows advocates, allies, and mental health professionals to stay in tune with their and the sufferer’s needs and boundaries while offering tools to help build a healthier lifestyle and foster growth.
Confidence helps mental health advocates tap into their inner selves, giving them the courage to take risks, try new activities, and reach their goals. It fuels their belief in their abilities to the core, which will help them make the proper judgment on their work.
Confidence also enables mental health advocates to communicate their message effectively and forge meaningful connections with others.
Mental health advocates must support others because they care about the well-being of all individuals. They provide emotional support, lend an ear, and help people access needed resources. Their goal is to help individuals manage mental health issues, reduce the stigma of seeking help, and provide a safe environment for people to discuss their struggles openly.
Advocates must be able to notice the negative aspects of people’s characters to know how to support them. While in therapy, a client must be challenged in a non-judgmental and supportive way to overcome beliefs and tendencies that may have been holding them back and negatively affecting their mental health and well-being.
Mental health advocates must be able to support people in different life situations, such as those facing unemployment or abusive relationships. They should know the underlying causes of mental health issues and understand the resources available to those in need.
How to Become a Mental Health Advocate
Are you interested in becoming a mental health advocate? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Understand Mental Health Advocacy
Mental health advocacy involves publicly speaking up for people with mental health issues to improve their well-being and quality of life. They are typically well-educated in the mental health field and passionate about the cause.
Becoming a mental health advocate requires a person to acquire a deep understanding of the biology of mental illness and the systems and environments in which it operates. Advocacy requires understanding how social prejudices and ecological factors intersectionally impact access to mental health treatments and services.
With this knowledge, they can work toward creating policies, services, and programs that provide better access and support to those affected by mental illness. Becoming a mental health advocate requires understanding both the biological aspects of mental health and the social, cultural, and environmental implications of mental illness to work toward creating better outcomes for those affected.
To understand more about mental health advocacy, St. Bonaventure University offers a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Online Program. The program provides professional training to develop committed counselors who are devoted to meeting the needs of individuals and their communities.
Find Your Role
Allow your strengths and interests to be a compass when you seek to become involved in the mental health field. Consider what skills you possess that others seek out your advice or assistance with.
Friends may turn to you for emotional support, so you’re considering a career in therapy or as a peer counselor. You may also strive to enact legal reforms to ensure mental health education is part of the school curriculum. Another outlet for expressing yourself is using your life story and experiences to write music or poetry.
Find Your Advocacy Community
If we all worked together to improve existing initiatives, we could have a more significant impact than if we were all starting something new from scratch. Numerous incredible organizations strive to improve mental health and need your help to prosper.
Instead of constructing something from scratch, you may benefit from exploring prominent figures’ guidance, amplifying a pre-existing entity’s efforts, and establishing more cooperative networks. When selecting a community to collaborate with, consider being guided by your interests or values.
This may include joining a club focused on a specific mental health condition, looking into groups that concentrate on causes you feel strongly about, teaming up with local mental health advocates, or even launching your program motivated by someone else’s work.
Set a Goal
When beginning your journey as a mental health advocate, consider what it means to you in terms of what goals you would like to accomplish and how you will know when you have been successful.
Establish a target for yourself. It doesn’t have to be significant or groundbreaking. Establishing these aims can also provide direction when exploring and contacting potential support networks.
Having a specific objective will help shape your search for the right people and resources to support your cause. Whether aiming for policy reform or fundraising, ensure your message is clear and concise when approaching potential partners. Stating the purpose of your plan upfront will show that you are well-prepared and committed.
Mental Health Advocacy in Action
Wondering what mental health advocacy looks like? Here are a few actions you can take
Raise Awareness of Mental Health Conditions
Mental health advocates are essential for bringing attention to the issue of mental illness. Without their efforts to raise public awareness, it would be far more challenging to comprehend the tell-tale signs and treatments relating to mental health issues, not to mention the implications of living with such conditions.
Advocates help people in positions of influence to make sweeping changes for the better, such as governors, state lawmakers, and judges. These people must know about mental illness and how it affects both the people who struggle with it and those around them.
Bring Attention to Disparities in Mental Health Care
Mental health conditions often go undiagnosed in marginalized populations. Advocates help fight the stigma that prevents people from getting the care they need.
Marginalized communities often go undiagnosed with mental health conditions due to a lack of access to quality healthcare services, lack of awareness about mental health issues, inability to pay for treatment, and language barriers, as well as fear and shame associated with seeking help.
People from marginalized communities are often over-represented among the underserved and often go uncounted or overlooked in mental health care surveys. By advocating for better health care, mental advocates ensure that everyone has equal access to the mental health care they need to live happy and productive lives.
Offer Emotional Support to Those with Mental Health Issues
Mental health advocates provide emotional and practical support to those affected by mental illness, offering understanding and compassion. They may help with practical matters such as navigating the mental health care system and resources for housing, employment, and other services.
This means that you are helping to create awareness and acceptance of mental health issues, recognizing the importance of getting help, and supporting those with mental health issues. It can come in many forms, such as providing a listening ear to those who need it, talking positively about mental health, and educating others about the importance of caring for their mental health.
Providing emotional support can also involve emotional reassurance to those struggling with their mental health, helping them build healthy coping strategies, and helping them access treatment options like counseling.
Use Social Media to Amplify Mental Health Awareness Campaigns
Using social media to amplify mental health awareness campaigns is a great way to ensure you advocate for mental health. Social media is crucial for spreading awareness and helping break the stigma associated with health issues.
Sharing facts, stories, and resources related to mental health can help destigmatize the issue and create a more open dialogue about mental health. Further, you can use social media to support organizations and campaigns and join online conversations about mental health.
By getting involved and raising awareness, you are helping to ensure that people worldwide have access to quality mental health care, support, and information.
Lead by Example by Seeking Help When Needed
Leading by example by seeking help shows your coworkers and peers that it is okay to reach out and ask for support regarding mental health. Having an open and supportive dialogue around mental health encourages everyone to feel comfortable talking about their mental health and wellness and to receive the help and care they need.
Having an employee advocate willing to start this conversation and ensure that employees are cared for can help create a positive workplace environment. This can inspire others to take action and get the help they need without feeling any stigma.
Promoting mental health and wellness by being an example for your peers helps reinforce the message that support should be available.
Volunteer with Organizations That Provide Mental Health Services and Support
One way to ensure that you advocate for mental health is to volunteer with organizations that provide mental health services and support. Volunteering allows you to raise awareness and provide emotional and practical support to those in need.
This can help build strong relationships with people who can distribute information about mental health services that might benefit people in need. Getting involved with organizations that provide mental health services will help those around you who are going through difficult times.
Encourage Open and Honest Conversations About Mental Health
Encouraging open and honest conversations includes actively listening to struggling people and showing empathy, respect, and understanding of their circumstances. It means stepping out of the shadows tal, talking about your mental health and the mental health of those around you, and being open to learning from and supporting each other.
By creating a space for these conversations, you can become an advocate for mental health by helping to destigmatize those with issues and promote interventions and forms of help-seeking. Additionally, advocating for greater availability of cognitive resources in schools and communities helps create a culture in which mental health is supported and respected.
Ask for Help
Seeking help means reaching out to those who can support and counsel you if you need help. This can include a mental health counselor, a therapist, a trusted friend, or a family member.
It is important to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength and resilience and is not a sign of weakness. It can be challenging to reach out for help, particularly if you feel overwhelmed. However, taking the initiative and asking for assistance can make a huge difference in coping with difficult situations.
Remember to choose someone you can trust who is willing to help.
Advocating for mental health involves taking simple steps daily to ensure that it is recognized as an essential part of one’s life. One should educate themselves on the subject and various organizations they can contact.
Everyone should model self-care, de-stress, and create a positive support system for themselves and those around them. Reach out to professionals when needed to get the necessary help and support. By taking these steps, you can become a better advocate for mental health.