I’m not a big social media person, so I’m still trying to figure out what exactly an influencer is. How does one get to be an influencer, and in particular, a mental health influencer? And is that the same thing as being a mental health advocate?
In the realm of mental health blogging or other online presence, there does at least seem to be a fairly consistent purpose, which is to raise awareness and challenge stigma—essentially, to advocate. In the UK, the term campaigner seems to be used rather than the term advocate.
Mental health influencers
The term influencer arose from the social media world, and to me, at least, it remains very attached to that world. My impression of influencers is that they tend to be very active on social media, where they have large followings and a lot of people interacting with their content.
The platform seems to matter a lot when it comes to being an influencer. Google search results for “mental health influencer” mostly refer to Instagram accounts, although Twitter and, more recently, TikTok have prominent mental health voices.
Mental health blogging (aside from micro-blogging on Instagram) appears to be less prominent in terms of influence. However, I’ve noticed that WordPress tends to have a strong sense of community and mutual engagement; that’s something that can get lost on platforms operating on a larger scale.
Follower numbers and reach
Reach is always going to be part of being an influencer. However, I believe that connection is what really allows someone to have an influence over other people. Personally, that’s been easier to achieve through blogging. Instagram or Twitter may be easier ways to reach a lot of people, but I find that I’m more strongly impacted by reading intimate blog posts rather than quick tweets or image-focused Instagram posts.
What’s just as important is how we ourselves are influenced by our engagement in our online communities. Many of us come on here with a goal to spread our message to others, but from what I’ve heard other bloggers mention, and from what I’ve experienced directly, it’s the back and forth in messaging that’s the most meaningful.
Mental health advocacy
Let’s shift gears now and focus on the advocacy side of things.
What advocacy is
An article on Psych Central quotes writer/blogger Therese Borchard, who 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.” I quite like that definition.
Advocacy can be done either by those of us living with mental illness or by those who support us, but it’s important that the our voices don’t get drowned out by people talking about us.
Creating dialogue around mental illness can be done on a large scale, one-to-one, or anywhere in between. Speaking on a large scale isn’t going to comfortable or doable for everyone; not everyone is going to be able to want to or be able to do the same advocacy activities, and that’s completely okay.
Mental health advocacy can mean connecting with people who don’t have a mental illness, but it can also happen within the mental illness community. This mutual peer support empowers all of us to use our voices in whichever way is the best fit for us. Individual interactions may seem like a drop in the bucket, but when those little drops of support are happening every day across the blogosphere and other online communities, it adds up.
Advocacy may be focused on challenging stigma. In his book The Stigma Effect, researcher Patrick Corrigan writes about how we can accomplish the most with our efforts; you can read more about that in my post How Can We Fight Mental Illness Stigma Most Effectively?
What advocacy is not
There is no one-size-fits-all advocate role. Advocacy is whatever each of us chooses to and is able to make it. There should be no standard expectations attached to the role of advocate.
A mental health advocate isn’t a mental health professional unless they’ve clearly self-identified as such. They don’t have to be knowledgeable about everything under the sun. They also don’t have to provide emotional or crisis support to others simply because they identify as an advocate. Just because someone’s social media bio says they’re a mental health advocate doesn’t mean their DMs are open at any time to anyone who may be looking for support. It also doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically know the answers to whatever questions might get thrown their way.
Revealing one’s identity isn’t necessary to be a mental health advocate. Your story and how you use your voice matter; whether you use your actual name or a pseudonym doesn’t. Granted, if you’re doing in-person speaking engagements, that’s a different situation. Overall, though, I don’t think that choosing not to share your real name makes you any less of an advocate. Only you can understand the repercussions that you might face by being open about your identity, so only you are in a position to decide whether or not that’s acceptable.
Advocacy doesn’t have to be about systems-level change. Most of us don’t have and never will have enough clout to effect change at that level, and that’s okay. If you convey to one person that it’s okay to not be okay, that’s a form of advocacy.
Defining your own role
Being a mental health influencer and/or advocate can look however you want it to look. While you can look to others for ideas and inspiration, there’s no hierarchy or need to be “good enough.” Of course, it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap just like it is with any other social dynamic, but in my mind, wanting to support people with mental illness is good enough in and of itself.
Whether you have many thousands of followers, or you just reach the odd person here and there, your voice matters. What matters is that we talk about mental health. And if we can get more people talking about it? That means we’re doing a good job.
Do you self-identify as a mental health influencer/advocate? If so, what does that look like for you?
Find out ways to share your mental health story.
You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.