When I started this blog, I mostly wanted to talk about self-care. The more I did though, the more I realized how closely self-care and mental health are interlinked. You can drink water, and go on walks, and pamper yourself but if your depression and anxiety are spiraling out of control then those little things make little to no difference and you can barely make yourself do them anyway. That’s where being a mental health advocate comes in.
I often get asked if I have a background in the mental health field. The answer is no. I’m not a therapist or social worker or anything that requires school and a degree. I’m a mental health advocate. That means that I share my lived experience, my stories, and my struggles.
I also do my best to raise awareness about what mental illness looks like. It’s important that I share information about social anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, and separation anxiety. How can people get help when they don’t even realize that they’re struggling? I also try to break the stigma around getting help and going to therapy – something I was scared to do too!
Here’s how to be a mental health advocate:
Fight (and vote) for affordable mental health treatment options in your community. The mental health system in America is broken in a lot of places. When we have affordable and accessible mental health resources it has a domino effect on the community, impacting crime rates, addiction, and homelessness. That’s why it’s so important to vote for politicians and programs that put mental health first.
Share your story. If you’re going through a dark night of the soul talk about it. There are so many people who have been there. Many who understand what you’re going through and why you’re going through it. Not only does sharing your story help other people feel less alone but it can also put a name to a struggle that someone didn’t realize was a mental illness.
Offer encouragement. Sometimes all someone needs to hear is that they can get to the other side of it. My anxiety used to be so all-encompassing that I didn’t think I’d ever have a “normal life”. There were so many days that I didn’t think I could get through. It’s also so important to encourage them to seek advice from professionals. The internet is an awesome place but it shouldn’t be your main method of treatment for a mental illness.
Share supportive resources and hotlines.
Here are some of my favorites!
The National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
The NAMI HelpLine 800-950-NAMI (6264)
Crisis Text Line | Text HOME To 741741
LGBTQ+ Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386
Share information that breaks down a stereotype. A lot of people think that agoraphobia is being stuck in your house completely and being unable to step foot on the sidewalk without a panic attack. And in some cases that is true. But for many, many, others agoraphobia looks like having several small safe places. Or being able to leave the house with a safe person. I was agoraphobic and I could go to work. Could I go any place other than work? Not really. I could walk to the park and spend time in the open air but I couldn’t go to restaurants I wasn’t familiar with or to anyone’s home without extreme anxiety.
And even though it didn’t look like the agoraphobia that’s on tv. It was still valid.
Create a safe space. Sometimes we just need to be able to say “My mental illness sucks right now.” and be met with understanding. Listening is such an underrated superpower. Be a good listener.