Mental health

What Does It Mean to Be a Mental Health Advocate?

Mental Health @ Home - What Does it Mean to be a Mental Health Advocate? - graphic of multicoloured hands raised

The exact terms used to describe someone who stands up for mental health can vary; mental health advocate seems to be more commonly used in North America, while mental health campaigner seems popular in the U.K.  I’ve seen a number of discussions on Twitter around what the most appropriate term is and what’s involved (and not involved) in the role.  In this post I’ll use the term advocate, and focus on what that might look like.

What mental health 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.  The voices of people who don’t have a mental illness deserve to be heard, but if those voices start to drown out our own, that’s probably not a good thing.

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 be an option for many people to begin with, but most importantly, the effects of the illness itself will impose limits on what can be done.

Mental health advocacy can involve connections between people with mental illness and those without, but it can also happen within the mental illness community.  This mutual support empowers all of us to use our voices in whichever way is the best fit for us.  Individual blogging interactions may seem like a drop in the bucket, but when those little drops of support are happening every day across the blogosphere, it adds up.

Advocacy may be more formal, and may involve legal representation or assistance in accessing government or other support services.

What advocacy is not

There is no one-size-fits-all advocate role.  Advocacy is whatever each of us chooses to make it on an individual level, within the context of whatever factors there may be limiting how freely we can speak.  That means there should not be 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, and no one is entitled to emotional or crisis support from someone simply because the person identifies as an advocate.  Just because someone’s Twitter 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, and it doesn’t mean they will 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, choosing not to share your real name doesn’t make you any less of an advocate.  Only you can understand the repercussions that you’d likely face if you were open about your identity, so only you are in a position to decide whether or not that’s acceptable.

Advocacy does not 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 blogger that it’s okay to not be okay, I’d say that in and of itself is a form of advocacy.

Defining your own role

Being a mental health advocate can look however you want it to look.  While you can look to others for ideas and inspiration, there is 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.

Why does any of this matter?  Well, stigma exists. As long as it does, the more people we can get talking about mental, health the better.

Stop mental illness stigma; image of a hand with a dialogue box in the palm

You can find more about stigma on the Stop Stigma page.

21 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be a Mental Health Advocate?”

  1. The drops do add up!!! The difficulty for me was to find a platform where I could meet other people who are experiencing something similar to me.
    I found a lot through blogging!
    I think everybody who adds to the effect of stigma being broken down and to the effect that people can be who they are, is a mental health advocate in their own way; like you said.
    What is very inspiring to me, is people who maybe don’t talk that much about their struggles (sharing your story has other effects of course!!!) but they lead ‘good’ lives.
    They do and realize things despite having to deal with … that can really open my eyes sometimes to my own possibilities.

  2. This is a great post, and you’ve done such a wonderful job of advocacy with your blog and your books. It’s so much to feel good about! You’re a role model for advocacy.

    Lately I’ve been wanting to advocate more for teenagers. I was always sad that I didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to work at the residential treatment facilities. I wish I could be a volunteer CASA (court appointed special advocate) but I don’t think I have the energy for it, either. I’m still thinking about it, though. In the meantime, I have my blog!

    I know I sometimes fail to be a good advocate for mental health when my mean judgey side comes out. I’ve been trying to develop more empathy and understanding in a broad sense. Of course, none of us are perfect, and it’s always a process.

  3. Amazing post as always!!

    “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 blogger that it’s okay to not be okay, I’d say that in and of itself is a form of advocacy.” That was so powerful and true!! Thanks for sharinf

  4. We emailed a newspaper because they made a joke about PTSD in a book review. We asked if they would make that joke about cancer or HIV, etc. We said devaluing mental illness hurts the ill and contributes to stigma.

    They didn’t address that. They just said it was a play on words, no harm, sorry if you’re offended, etc.

    We got sad. Then, once we settled down a week later, we escalated our concern. Still haven’t heard anything. We have been unable to let it go.

    Are we an advocate?

    1. Yes, absolutely. Their response just reflects their own ignorance and stigma. I hope escalating it produces a more positive result, but even if it doesn’t, you speak up, and that’s a powerful thing. ❤️

    2. Hi!! i just wondering if a person who actually grows up in a good family and cheerful can actually have ptsd. Cus im not sure how to know if i have it. How do we know?

  5. I love this. This really speaks to me. I also suffer with mental health and after losing so many friends and now seeing past students (from my time as an EA) start to fall into same patterns, I realized how important it is to reach out to the new generation; internet, tiktok, etc. It’s so important to fight the stigma and allow youth to understand that it is okay to not be okay! It is okay to talk! I currently work with a Nonprofit Organization that focuses on Youth for this reason!

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