More than 50 percent of people coping with mental health issues don’t seek help or treatment. Stigma and fear about prejudice and discriminations may play a decisive role in someone’s likelihood to engage with mental health treatment resources. However, in the last several years, conversation has opened up and awareness is growing regarding stigma and mental illness. Mental health advocates have been at the heart of this change every single day.
When individuals gather the courage to tell their stories, people listen and shift their viewpoints on mental health. You don’t need to be a professional or work in mental health to become an advocate. Learn more about simple ways you can step into this vital role today.
What Is A Mental Health Advocate?
A mental health advocate has two key characteristics: compassion and courage. They support people with mental health issues by speaking up and raising awareness. They tell the stories of people who can’t easily speak for themselves. And many times, this begins by sharing their personal struggle.
Advocates may appear strong and pulled together. But for many who speak out, this isn’t always the case. A person who is open about mental health issues doesn’t necessarily have it all figured out. Mental health advocates have ups and downs too. Many people can seem to function well while going through rough periods.
Mental health advocacy can be as simple as supporting a friend coping with symptoms of mental illness. Or, if you go to therapy, talk about your positive experience with it to encourage someone else to do the same. Doing simple acts like these demonstrates how to handle mental health issues in a non-stigmatized way.
Steps to Become A Mental Health Advocate
Advocacy can have a big impact, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some simple ways you can become a mental health advocate today.
1. Support someone who needs help
Helping someone may involve having conversations and providing emotional support, while at other times, it may be more practical. No matter what it looks like, your support will make a difference for someone who may be struggling to get through their day.
Consider how you can take action in the following ways:
- Take someone to counseling or medical appointments
- Do household chores or errands
- Listen to someone’s concerns without judgment
- Help them gather important information including:
- Treatment options
- Information about their condition
- Financial aid
- Support a person’s healthy lifestyle:
- Watch someone’s children when they go to therapy or do self care activities
- Offer to exercise with them
- Invite them to social activities
2. Volunteer for a local mental health organization
Local mental health organizations are always looking for helpers. Many opportunities are easy for beginners and offer a simple way to get involved. If you feel called to do more, consider a leadership position or a role that requires some training. However you take action, you’ll be giving hope to people living in your community.
- Get involved in local events that raise awareness like fundraising walks or campaigns. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) has chapters in every state with events throughout the year.
- Do practical tasks like paperwork, gathering supplies, or making phone calls
- Join a committee or take a leadership position on a board
- Volunteer to take calls on a mental health phone or text support line. Opportunities exist at the local and national level including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
3. Talk with local leaders about mental health priorities
Sometimes important bills related to mental health are presented in a state or national legislature session. Local mental health advocates often gather at these sessions and speak at committee meetings. When citizens share their stories and explain why a specific bill or policy will help, leaders take notice.
You can also bring publicity to community needs by contacting local radio shows or your newspaper. Consider doing an interview about your personal mental health journey to reduce stigma.
4. Seek to empower and educate
One of the simplest ways to shift public perception about mental health is to lead by example. When you speak out in support of people with mental health issues, you can shape the conversation with your choice of words. You don’t need to be an expert, just someone willing to share accurate information in a caring way.
Show others that conversations about mental health have a place in your community. Start by sharing your own emotional struggles to help reduce stigma. You don’t have to get up in front of a group to make a difference. Personal conversations can be an effective way to change perspectives.
5. Learn more about modern mental health
Mental health innovations are developing at a rapid pace. From unique medications to cutting edge technology, there are more ways to address mental health needs than ever before.
Pharmacogenetic testing offers a personalized method for choosing mental health medications. Because your genotype is unique, a one-size-fits-all approach to medication can add time and frustration to your medication search. The Genomind® Professional PGx Express™ test examines 24 genes related to mental health treatment. Your results are cross-referenced with approximately 130 medications commonly used psychiatric and neurologic conditions. The report shows your clinician how likely you may be to respond to certain medications or experience certain side effects. Because your genotype remains the same throughout your life, you can use this guidance for years to come.
Bring up these innovative treatments in conversations with friends and family. The latest treatment breakthrough or improved access to care could be a lifesaver for someone you know.
Mental Health Advocacy - Destigmatizing Mental Health
Mental health advocates play an essential role in communities all over the world. They reduce mental health stigma by speaking up. You can step into this role and make a difference today.