I have been asked more in the last two months than ever in my life if I am a licensed counselor or therapist. I feel like I always make it relatively clear - I am a mental health advocate. I do not provide counseling services or any kind of care that a licensed therapist would provide. I've seen enough therapists myself to know that that is not the job for me. I speak out from my own experience. I've taken classes. Done the research. Worked with therapists and counselors myself in order to be sure that when I say something, it's correct. All my work has been vetted by someone licensed. However, I am forever grateful that there is such a thing as a mental health advocate because, in the arena of mental health, we need all the help we can get. We need YOU.
It is work an amazing amount of working being an advocate. It is not for the faint of heart. I research like a fiend. I have sad conversations with people who are just looking to have their feelings validated. Sometimes, people don't like me because mental health is still so stigma’d and I don’t walk any sort of line or gray area with my thoughts on that, and I need to try to be okay with it. Advocacy itself is important and painstaking heart work. But, it is different than being an actual licensed therapist.
What is Mental Health Advocacy?
Mental health advocacy refers to the process of promoting and protecting the rights of people with mental health conditions. Advocates work to increase public awareness of mental health issues, fight stigma, and improve access to care. They also work to change policies and laws to ensure that people with mental health conditions are treated fairly and have the resources they need to live healthy, loving, and healing lives.
Advocates can come from a variety of backgrounds and may work in different capacities. Some may be mental health professionals, but many are not. They may be individuals with lived experience of mental health challenges, family members, friends, or allies who support the mental health community. It's fueled by passion and usually some sort of connection with a mental health issue or a loved one who struggles.
Examples of Advocates in History
Throughout history, there have been many examples of advocates who were not counselors or therapists. One of the most well-known examples is Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a tireless advocate for human rights and mental health issues. She spoke out about the need for improved mental health care and worked to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Bebe Moore Campbell was a teacher, author, journalist, and mental health advocate. Her focus was the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented populations. Her work was incredibly impactful.
Another example is Nellie Bly, a journalist who in 1887 feigned mental illness in order to be admitted to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island in New York City. Her undercover reporting exposed the horrific conditions in the asylum and led to significant reforms in the mental health care system.
The Importance of Mental Health Advocacy
Mental health advocacy is important for many reasons. First and foremost, it helps to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. When I first began as an advocate, this was my entire goal. I wanted people to be able to talk about their experiences without guilt or repercussion. The stigma behind mental health issues often prevents people from seeking help when they need it. Advocates work to raise awareness and educate the public about mental health issues, which helps to reduce stigma and encourage people to seek help when they feel they need it.
Advocacy also plays an important role in improving access to therapy or counseling. People with mental health conditions often face significant barriers to accessing treatment, including cost, lack of insurance, and limited availability of services. We have seen this increase since the pandemic when there are so many people needing assistance. Advocates work to change policies and laws to ensure that mental health care is accessible and affordable for everyone who needs it. My focus in this area has been on organizational change in the education system to try to get teachers and administrators this help specifically. While I hope that my work has a trickle-out effect, my focus has always been on schools.
Finally, advocacy is important because it empowers people with mental health conditions to speak out and have their voices heard. In my experience, one of the most difficult parts of having a mental health issue is the feeling that I'm never heard. It gives people the opportunity to share their experiences, connect with others who are going through similar challenges, and work together to create change.
The Difference between Mental Health Advocacy and Counseling or Therapy
While mental health advocacy and counseling or therapy share the goal of improving mental health outcomes, there are significant differences between the two roles.
Counselors and therapists are mental health professionals who are trained to provide clinical care to people with mental health conditions. They may provide individual or group therapy, diagnose mental health conditions, and develop treatment plans. Their focus is on helping people to manage their symptoms and improve their overall mental health and well-being.
Advocates, on the other hand, may or may not have clinical training. Their focus is on promoting and protecting the rights of people with mental health conditions, increasing public awareness of mental health issues, and advocating for policy and system changes. Advocates work to improve access to care, reduce stigma, and empower people with mental health conditions to speak out and have their voices heard.
Mental health advocacy is critical to improving mental health outcomes for individuals and communities. There are many ways to get involved in advocacy, whether you are a mental health professional, a person with lived experience, or simply someone who cares about mental health issues. Here are a few ways to get started:
Educate yourself about mental health issues. THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS. Know what you're talking about, and not just by Googling. Read peer-reviewed research journals and speak with people in the field. Attend conferences and drink in all you can. Learn about the different types of mental health conditions, their symptoms, and treatment options. This knowledge will help you to better understand the challenges that people with mental health conditions face and how you can help.
Speak out about mental health issues. Use your voice to raise awareness of mental health issues and advocate for change. You can do this by writing letters to your elected officials, speaking to community groups, or sharing your own story of mental health challenges. This takes vulnerability but is an important part of helping people understand our (those with mental health challenges) needs.
Get involved in advocacy organizations. There are many organizations that focus on mental health advocacy. These organizations may offer opportunities to volunteer, participate in advocacy campaigns, or connect with other advocates.
Support mental health policies and initiatives. Stay informed about mental health policies and initiatives in your community and support those that promote access to healing care, reduce stigma, and raise the voice of people with mental health conditions.
Take care of your own mental health. In order to be an effective advocate, it's important to take care of your own mental health. Practice self-care, seek support when you need it, and prioritize your own well-being.
Mental health advocacy and counseling or therapy are both critical components of mental health care, but they serve different roles. Advocates work to promote and protect the rights of people with mental health conditions, while counselors and therapists provide clinical care to help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their mental health. I have always elevated the counseling profession because I have always believed that mental health professionals are such an important part of our healing process as individuals and communities. There can be a place for all of us in this journey, though. Everyone has the opportunity to be an advocate. It would be ridiculous for there to be gatekeeping around something that is so incredibly crucial to society, especially when we are at a critical tipping point and need all hands on deck. Anyone could be an advocate. Is that you?
Tell me in the comments how you have used your voice to advocate for people with mental health issues.