Next month (May) is mental health awareness month. We’ve really come a long way because there was a time in which mental health wouldn’t even get an awareness hour let alone a month. More people are speaking out about their own experiences and making it clear that they are judgment free of anyone else who wants to share theirs. People from all different backgrounds and professions are calling themselves “mental health advocate”, especially on social media. It’s a huge step forward, and as a therapist, I couldn’t be happier about the direction of that movement.
However…. (you knew that was coming, right?)
An advocate is literally defined (by Dictionary.com, whose Twitter account is A+, in case you haven’t seen it yet!) as “a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc.” So based on that definition, there’s no much you have to do in order to wear that label. But I think we should hold anyone who considers themselves an advocate to a higher standard. Sharing your story, and encouraging others to do the same, is great – but how can we go further?
If you consider yourself a mental health advocate, take a step back and really ask yourself how you’re helping the cause.
Are you encouraging people to seek out professional mental health services or helping them to do so? Have you spotlighted therapists or other mental health professionals and their words, rather than just sharing your own? Do you, if possible, donate to organizations helping to make mental health care more accessible? Are you researching the stance people running for office, and current elected officials, on mental health care? When you say you’re a mental health advocate, does that really mean you’re just sharing day to day “self care” practices?
That last one though.
I think too many people are falling into that category. Being a mental health advocate doesn’t just mean you’re encouraging people to do yoga, drink chai lattes, or meditate. All of those things are great, but that isn’t where the work needs to be done.
Those things aren’t stigmatized.
Therapy is. Medication is. Inpatient hospitalization really is. All of those things are also really hard to get access to. The system is broken. Have you spoken with a mental health professional, or a frequent user of those services, to find out how? Have you tried to go to therapy yourself? Is that the experience you’re talking about? Sharing how you take care of yourself on social media is great. Hopefully it gives other people some ideas on how to do the same! But that isn’t mental health advocacy.
It’s okay if the work isn’t for you. Maybe you don’t feel as strongly about mental health care as you do about puppies! And that’s okay, puppies are great and need homes and I love them too. But if you aren’t going to do the heavy lifting, maybe it’s time to rethink that label of mental health advocate. And if you are really passionate about advocating in the mental health field, make sure you’re putting your energy where it’s necessary. You don’t have to do everything, but think about where your focus is in terms of sharing anything that you’d label as being mental health.
What is the impact that you hope you’re making? What are you hoping to change?
Ask yourself those questions, and if you do want to continue to do the work of mental health advocacy (thank you!), please make sure you’re thinking about your answers in a meaningful way. Let’s all fight for what really needs to be changed.