Openly discussing one’s mental health no longer carries the same stigma it did in times past when people often avoided the subject. Throughout history, individuals with mental illness had difficulty finding acceptance and support from family members and others. Mental illness was a condition to be hidden or ignored. Today, though, thanks to mental health activism, many individuals with mental health diagnoses do not mind sharing their experiences with friends and coworkers.
Just as chronic health conditions like diabetes or hypertension do not prevent people from living full lives, mental illness should not condemn an individual to a life of loneliness and despair. With proper treatment, including medications, therapy, self-care, and support, individuals with mental illness often manage well and enjoy long-term recovery.
Mental health activists, who have firsthand knowledge of mental illness, deserve the credit for bringing mental health issues to the forefront. Activists or advocates are individuals from all walks of life, including those who work quietly in their communities, and celebrities who publicly share their struggles with depression, substance use, and the stress that comes with high expectations.
What Does It Mean To Be a Mental Health Activist or Advocate?
An advocate for mental health usually has a story to tell that can help others impacted by mental health issues discover that there is hope. Mental health advocates can be effective because of lived experience. They understand what others endure, because they have learned to navigate life’s challenges while dealing with emotional ups and downs. They know too well the feelings of hopelessness and mistrust that come naturally with some forms of mental illness.
Not only can individuals with mental health issues advocate for themselves and others, but family, friends, and mental health professionals can also speak up for the needs of individuals with mental illness. They can lobby policymakers and others with the authority and resources to improve mental health treatment and community support services.
Why Does the World Need Mental Health Activism?
When people suffer in silence from mental illness, the public may be inattentive to their plight, not intentionally, but because policymakers tend to hear the loudest voices. As the cliché goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.” Mental health activism is necessary because many individuals with mental illness are not willing or comfortable talking about the issue, resulting in them not getting the help they need. However, anyone interested in supporting individuals with mental health issues can be a voice.
Those willing to serve as activists can advocate for residents of communities with scarce mental health resources. When individuals held in high esteem, like professional athletes can be open about their mental health problems, it may encourage other people with mental illness to talk about their difficulties and seek assistance.
Benefits of Mental Health Activism
Mental health activism brings to the forefront the concerns of individuals living with mental illness. Like those with chronic physical diseases, people with mental illness can have days when the condition prevents them from feeling healthy and productive. Employers and others in positions of authority benefit from understanding how mental illness can affect their workers, colleagues, and stakeholders.
When those struggling with mental health issues engage in activism, it can be empowering and provide a sense of purpose. Speaking up for themselves and encouraging others to seek help can be a healthy distraction for individuals with mental health issues.
Examples of Mental Health Advocates
Events that impact an individual’s life can influence the desire to become a mental health activist. For example, a respected athlete at the top of their sport suddenly cannot perform at a level anticipated by their fans and the media. The pressure can become mentally overwhelming, and the individual must step away from the game to rest and heal. Just as athletes need time to recover from their physical injuries, they should take time to strengthen their mental health.
Celebrities, and other well-known people, have benefited from treatment to address conditions like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. The stigma that once kept individuals from seeking treatment has given way to conversations that help others dealing with similar concerns understand that they are not alone. Whether they are CEOs or entertainers, well-known individuals can reach the masses. People typically listen when they share their stories. By allowing a glimpse into their vulnerabilities, famous personalities give courage and strength to those reluctant to seek help because of fear and shame.
Family members of individuals with mental illness often use their experiences and tragedies to bring awareness to mental health. For example, when a loved one dies by suicide, survivors sometimes turn their heartbreak into healing by trying to help others avoid the pain they have experienced. One means of doing this is to inform people of signs that may indicate a loved one is experiencing mental anguish that could put them at risk for suicide.
How Can You Be an Advocate?
Becoming a mental health advocate or mental health leader does not require fame or riches. You only need a willingness to connect with others to help them understand that mental health and resources to address mental illness should be a priority. Start locally by engaging people in your community. If you feel compelled, share your personal stories with community leaders and local policymakers.
Community and faith-based organizations often reach out to individuals reluctant to ask for help. Local, state, and federal policymakers decide where to spend tax dollars. You can help these leaders and organizations understand that mental health programs are not only severely underfunded, but also non-existent in many areas.
Volunteer with your local National Alliance for Mental Illness group (NAMI) or similar organization. Share your resources by donating funds and items to help mentally ill individuals, such as those who may be homeless and need essential survival articles, such as warm coats, socks, and gloves.
Start Your Activism Today
It appears more people are open to learning about the difficulties those with mental illness face. Now is the time for all to raise their collective voices and become activists to ensure that people with mental health issues get the help they need.
If you or someone you know is dealing with mental challenges or substance use issues, we are here to help. At FHE Health, we have a compassionate team of counselors on standby 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today to get the help you need to move forward.