Only a few decades ago, mental health was a misunderstood and stigmatized topic. Cruel and unusual “treatments” were used on patients that left them traumatized, maimed, or in some cases dead. For many, torturous solutions such as electroshock treatment and long-term commitment to institutions were their only options. We’ve come a long way since then, in both our perspective and our treatments. A lot of our progress can be attributed to science, but mental health advocacy also deserves much of the credit.
Advocates are people who are willing to share their personal stories and experiences as well as stand up for others who do not have a voice, whether through social media posts, speaking in person, or even just in a one-on-one conversation with someone else who may not have the same understanding of mental illness. There are so many people affected by mental illness who don’t have the means to defend themselves or share their thoughts, often due to lack of resources, treatment, or assurance of safety. In these instances, mental health advocates are essential.
For me, having an ally as I went through doctor after doctor trying to find answers, made all the difference. My friends and family didn’t all understand what I was going through, but they were there when I needed them. They asked questions, they cheered me on, and sometimes they just listened.
Some of the first mental health advocates were ex-patients of mental hospitals who bravely spoke up about the torture they endured during their hospitalization. Movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Girl, Interrupted, and Shutter Island depicted the horrors of how people with mental health have been treated. Seeing these representations in film and TV was essential to bringing attention to the inhumane conditions and indifferent treatment that most of the general public were completely unaware of.
Advocacy has grown and changed a lot since the late 1900s, especially now that we have huge celebrities openly discussing their own mental health struggles, empowering and inspiring countless others to share their own experiences with mental illness. Advocacy has an incredible domino effect—the more people willing to share their stories, the more others feel comfortable and safe to do the same.
You don’t have to get on a platform and share your deepest, darkest secrets with the world in order to be an advocate. You simply need to let others affected know that they are loved, that they matter, and that there are resources out there to help them. The smallest gesture can literally save a person’s life. If more of us are willing to stand up for others and be vulnerable and open ourselves, the world’s perspective on mental illness can continue to change for the better.
Tell me what you think below. Has anyone advocated for you before? Or have you been an advocate for another?