Advocacy in the Information Age
Advocacy is a word that comes up frequently during Mental Health Month. It gets thrown about by legislators and proponents of better healthcare—but what does it mean to those of us who find ourselves in a less visible position?
The first thing to remember about advocacy is that it is simple. It does not always involve theatrical displays of support or dramatic declarations of injustice and lifelong missions to right centuries of wrongs (although if that’s your thing, go for it!). What advocacy does involve is concerned people tackling the problem as it stands before them.
Why is advocacy important?
Rick Cagan, the Executive Director of NAMI Kansas, believes that advocacy is the biggest tool we have to combat stigma, which remains one of the biggest challenges facing persons with mental illness even in the 21st century. Stigma is the nasty word that may keep 60% of people suffering from mental illness from seeking treatment. With 1 in 5 adult Americans experiencing mental illness in a given year, and 1 in 25 living with a serious chronic mental illness, it’s about time that we begin to talk about mental illness the same way we talk about cancer and diabetes-often.
For persons diagnosed with mental illness, or otherwise experiencing psychological distress, it can be terrifying to talk openly about their struggles. Doing so invites discrimination and judgement, and can jeopardize their sense of normalcy. This is not okay. The fear that stigma elicits keeps hundreds of thousands of people from seeking the treatment they need and leaves them with the belief that no one understands or has shared in their experiences.
No more silence.
Why do stigma and discrimination continue to survive in this age of unprecedented acceptance and medical knowledge? Stigma only survives because of silence. The more we talk about mental health the more hope we have of eliminating stigma. Talking about mental health? That’s advocacy, and it’s the only way to get rid of stigma.
If we want people to respond differently to conversations about mental health, we must begin discussing it in a way that sheds light on what it is, how it feels, and what we can do to make sure that everyone has access to the kind of help they need. In this age of online networking and social media connections, the quickest way to do this is to become part of online conversations about mental health. There is power in sharing your story with a supportive online community.
In honor of Mental Health Month, join the conversation. Be brave. Be honest. Show the world that you are a beautiful, complex person—not a diagnosis. Let’s embody the love and acceptance we’ve all been looking for.