MH@H Mental Health

What Makes Someone a Mental Health Influencer/Advocate?

What does it mean to be a mental health advocate? - diagram of person supporting multiple other people

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?

Ways to share your mental health story

Find out ways to share your mental health story.

Mental illness: Stop the stigma - graphic of face and megaphone with the words "speak up"

You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.

A Brief History of Stigma: coming soon from Mental Health @ Home Books

73 thoughts on “What Makes Someone a Mental Health Influencer/Advocate?”

  1. That’s a very, very interesting question. I asked myself who’s influenced me, and I came up with the following answers:

    * Dr. Phil McGraw — I used to watch his show, and he made a lot of sense.
    * Judge Judith Scheindlin — she could always tell when someone was mentally ill and/or immature, and she’d tell them, “You know what? You need to go back home and live with your parents for a few more years,” or that sort of thing.
    * Carolyn Hax — She radically altered my worldview back when I originally read her columns in 2004. Her advice gave me a common sense that I’d never had.

    On a smaller scale, like pertaining to us bloggers, I don’t know how influential we are (in a global sense), but we’re definitely a good community!!

  2. I’m not on instagram and don’t engage in twitter that much. I think if someone wants huge numbers then they have to ‘work’ social media in the right way but like you say followers doesn’t mean readers.

  3. Excellent post, Ashley! Everything you have written about makes perfectly good sense to me.
    I still have a FB account open, and I don’t even know why. I’ve actually seen one of “My so-called friends” who attends the same mental health facility who in which claimed she was a mental health professional. In what capacity? Who the heck knows. But, after I read that, I was sickened.
    I appreciate your approach of being an influencer. Not only to you engage, but you truly listen.
    By the way, I’ve been reading your book off/on throughout the week, and I have to hand it to you… I consider you not only an author, but you’ve given so much perspective on the medications that I’ve been taking all along. I feel so proud to know you!

      1. You’re kidding me, right? Wow! What a compliment, I don’t know what to say other than, Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!
        I sincerely need to write more about mental health, and the list I printed last week of the collaborators is one platform I want to take part in. I’m working on a few areas I think would be ineresting.
        Again, Ashley… Thank you so very much! You made my whole month!!! 🤗💗

  4. I really enjoyed your article. Personally, I don’t really follow the example of known “influencers” simply because I believe that we can all influence others in a way or another. Many people like to follow known people because they have the impression that if those people can do certain things than they can as well, not sure if it makes sense, it does in my head. 😋 A mental health influencer…for me is someone that struggled or struggles with mental health and talks openly about it with the purpose of helping others.

  5. Great post. I love the engagement part of blogging. Sure, my more recent MH blogging is to build my influence for my business, but I still engage with my WordPress people. I love Carolyn over at beauty beyond bones because she always engages. I think a real influencer is someone who engages. It’s a lot harder and more superficial on twitter from my experience, which is one of the reasons I left.

    1. I agree. I stay on Twitter mostly because there are a few people who I do connect with, but the blogging connections are overall a lot more meaningful.

  6. I would like to think of myself as a MII. Going by the definition that I openly talk about my journey with my mental illnesses and have a relationship with my “active” followers. I have over 450 followers but only a handful actually have a dialog with me. But I have a type of influence. I help others, I spread information, I fight stigma. And I think we are all influencers in our own way. Just as we could say we are all advocates in our own way. Someone that brings awareness to Mental Illness. Sure, it would be great if I were popular, but I am cared about by my regulars, which is good enough for me. 🙂

  7. Great post! I think what truly matters is the intention behind the “influencer”. I’m a blogger, who mostly advocates for Mental Health, as I myself struggle with anxiety daily. I started an Instagram and have a Facebook but twitter just isn’t my speed. My ONLY purpose in creating these accounts where in the hope that I can reach as many people as I can, in order to spread hope and a sense of community. At the end of the day, I’m not worried about how many followers I have in compared to how many I’ve followed. I want people to know they aren’t alone. The great thing about other social accounts versus a blog post is that while they are short bursts of encouragement, they can be consistent. Blogs will obviously create and further a more authentic and deep conversation, but other outlets can be the start of one.

  8. Love this post! Influencers are such a major part of social media across all “genres” (for want of a better word) of posts, that it’s making me start to realise that really they do more harm than good. Of course there are those influencers who don’t use there following to their own advantage. But those who portray the perfect lifestyle, influence in a negative way. I started my blog this week as a way to cope with my own mental health problems and one of my goals at the moment is to have one day a week where I don’t go anywhere near my social media (which frankly sounds pathetic written down, but is the reality that me and most of my generation would struggle with). I hope that in the future we won’t see an influencer as someone with the ability to change our lives to be more like theirs, but just another person living their life while we live ours.

    1. I think your goal of going a day without social media is a great one. It doesn’t sound pathetic at all – I tried to do one day without using my phone and I failed. It’s a very tough thing to do and there seems to be a lot of evidence mounting to suggest it’s a major conributing factor to our challenges with mental health. I wish you well in your efforts. I think it’ll be a great habit and will give you lots of useful information about how you feel and think differently on the days with/without social media interaction.

  9. Hi there,

    Really great post- very interesting question. I guess in a way, the goal is to have everyone as a ‘mental health influencer’, i.e. having their experience heard and part of the mental health discussion.
    My sense from my limited time blogging/twittering on MH is that it is indeed that connection with others that is key. Big, shiny, loud things/accounts/blogs(?) can be attractive (sometimes), but it’s that feeling of someone really “getting” you/ your experience that feels fundamental to it all. To impart the message that “you’re not alone in this”

    Thanks again for the post.
    Peace and love.
    Spence.

  10. In my over 5 decades of dealing with mental health issues I have heard it all and all these so called influencers are dead wrong! The most important number is 1. What do I mean by that? It simply means that you can have all the influencers you want but when it comes to helping one person each day one day at a time. Sometimes it’s one second. The mental health establishment likes things just they way they are and simple won’t be honest about it/

  11. Influencers can come in many different shapes and sizes. Most start off small and gradually grow in size and influence. I’m trying to grow my blog page now which talks about Stuttering, Stress and Mental Health. It’s taking a while to grow but I am growing

  12. I definitely agree with this. I’d much rather have a smaller following that I’m close to and have a connection with than a large following I don’t interact with. Yes, number’s matter.. but it’s not all about the numbers. xx

  13. Thank you for sharing this! It’s actually made me feel better about starting my own mental health blog (blurrythought.com) and sharing my struggles. Even though I’m very new on the scene – a few days at most – I definitely think that engaging with your follower base and your fellow bloggers is one of the most important aspects of blogging, because then there’s a connection that is established. Unfortunately social media makes it all about the numbers, and not really about the content. Thank you again – it’s nice to know that we don’t have to adhere to a criteria to be classified as a ‘mental health blogger’.

  14. I love this. I haven’t been able to get anyone to read my post and I honestly am not sure what I am doing wrong. However I decided to read more of the post on WordPress than the links on Twitter and insta. I love your article. It’s engaging and interesting and makes one think. All I want to do is spread the word about stigma associated with mental illness and yes I am not rich or famous but it’s a battle I’ve faced for years and I’ve seen so many people who hide away in sham. Including myself. Thank you for your post

          1. I only went back on Twitter recently as a way to spread my message. SERIOUSLY MISGUIDED. Trying not to lose steam or focus a d just keep on doing what I love as this is the only thing I have left for now. Followers or not.

  15. Great post! You really got me thinking about what a mental health influencer is – and the intentions behind aiming to become one. I think there are levels of influence. Most of us, even the ones with few followers have likely had an influence – even if only on our own mental health. Others have turned it into a profession and can be called “influencer” as a job title. I guess, as long as the marks we leave make a positive difference, we’ve been influencers, even if not the job-title kind.

      1. I agree. Once it becomes a business and is bigger than the person who started it, it becomes about something other than what it was in the beginning.

  16. I’ve only just come across this post Ashley, I must of mist it, lol. As you know I’m fairly new to blogging. I opened up a Twitter account a few years ago but never use it. Since being on WordPress and interacting with other like minded bloggers like yourself, I would much prefer having just a handful in my community that actually interacted with one another, than having thousands that didn’t even bother liking a post, let alone reading it!

  17. With mental health I think it doesnt matter about being an influencer although the more people share their story the better and the more people it reaches the better

  18. ” I’m still trying to figure out what exactly an influencer is”. It is inevitably a person with a big mouth, often not overly bright or qualified, who has got something to sell and wants to thrust it down your throat.

  19. I deleted my personal Facebook 7 years ago, and it was the best decision I could have made. Given that I’m in my 20s, people still seem confused when I tell them I don’t have one, but it was the right thing for me. 💕

    1. It’s funny how it’s become a basic expectation for human interaction, but it seems like a lot of people who stop using it are happy with the decision.

  20. Lol, when the whole “influencer” thing took off I always thought it sounded kinda dumb. Anyone can influence anyone else if they really want to. Doesn’t that make us all influencers? 🤔

  21. I 100% agree with you I’d rather have a small engaged audience talking about something meaningful than thousands of people just knowing what I had for dinner. Let us know if you find anymore mental health ‘influencers’ I’m always looking for more to read. I feel like ‘influencers’ on WordPress are much more genuine and sincere about their message than Instagram models who mention it every now and then, but that’s just me!

    1. Feel free to check out my blog, where I analyze topics related to mental health from the perspective of positive psychology! This field is focused on what it means to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. If you’d like, let me know what you think in the comments as well. Hope you enjoy it!

  22. I personally believe a mental health influencer is someone who makes it their mission to spread light on the subject of mental health while being active within the mental health community. Our words touch many people, and if we get just one person to come to a realization, help them understand, cope, and in any way help them, we influenced them in some way. Honestly, anyone can be an influencer, for the good or bad. This world is amused by chaos, it can become very difficult to try and spread light on things like mental health. Social media is both helpful and a bothersome, helpful by getting others to read posts, however, there are so many fake articles out there now it makes it hard for the honest writers to get their words out there and read. I’m new to blogging and I too don’t really understand the term influencer entirely, though I do use social media to try to promote some of my articles. WordPress is by far my favorite way to connect to like-minded people. Facebook and Twitter seem to gravitate towards drama because it’s amusing to people. I truly enjoyed reading this post, it definitely got my mind going.

  23. I enjoyed the way you go through this topic of mental health influencers. It’s kind of a strange thing when I really think about it. But I do find it to be more impactful when we’re genuine with our interactions with each other. I feel like most influencers push something because they’re paid for it, so what you mention in the end of this, to me, is far more worthy. Even if it’s a handful of people you reach.

  24. Great points. I am a mental health/wealth blogger, in fact I am a vlogger and only recently became a blogger today on wordpress. I am super super dubious about these mental health influencers who appear to be more interested in their number/followers than engagement. I am all for engagement. I tried to engage with some of the well known influencers out there. Sorry let me rephrase I did engage and got absolutely nothing back. Well that’s a lie I did get something back a link to their merchandise and other bits and bobs they sell, but not one single word that demonstrated that i was being contacted by an actual human being who cared about anything I wrote.

    1. That’s so frustrating. Being genuine makes the whole process much better for everyone involved. It’s not all about numbers and dollars.

  25. Such an interesting read, I think mental health advocates are very much separate to your typical influencer. We use media in different ways in order to engage audiences properly about the issues we’re passionate about x

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