By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.
Mental health advocates are the number one reason why the stigma surrounding mental illness has significantly decreased over the years. They help the public see that individuals with mental illness are just people and shatter stereotypes around mental illness.
Therese Borchard defines a mental health advocate as “anyone who is a voice for those suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other disorder—who hopes to disseminate a message of hope and support.” You can also think of it as a “spectrum of engagement” from allies to activists. An ally is someone who feels connected to challenging prejudice and discrimination, but may not necessarily act on it. An activist engages in intentional action to make the change happen. There is no right way to advocate; it all depends on what’s important to you and what you’re comfortable with.
Ways to Become an Advocate
- Educate your close circle. The way you talk about mental health can help others in your life to take a more positive and accepting approach to mental health. For example, you can share articles about mental health with your family, friends and colleagues to help them understand the issue.
- Volunteer. Join local mental health organizations and offer to help with their programs.
- Get trained in legislative advocacy. For example, you can become a field ambassador for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
- Find your niche. Find the thing that you are better at than most and that inspires you, whether that’s public speaking or fundraising.
- Don’t underestimate the power of inspiration. Advocates who’ve struggled with their own mental health remind others that even though they can’t see past their suffering right now, that doesn’t mean this has to be their future.
You can also make a change in your local community by taking these actions:
- Talk with community leaders. Encourage them to officially recognize the national mental health awareness events, such as Mental Health Month in May, National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in July and Mental Illness Awareness Week in October.
- Take action on advocacy issues. Policy change is one of the major factors that can affect the lives of people living with mental health disorders and their families.
- Speak with teens. Mental disorders can start early, and stigma and fear stop many teens from getting the help they need.
- Involve your faith community. Faith and faith communities can play a significant role in the recovery of individuals.
- Connect with local businesses. Small businesses may be willing to distribute materials, host events or use their connections in helpful ways.
- Share information. Ask about adding brochures to your local coffee house, rec center, church information boards and events.
- Host an event. Create an event raising awareness about mental health issues or services in your community.
Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.
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