I just realized that I completely ignored the second part of Beverly’s question regarding advocacy, so let me take a moment and speak to that as well.
If I would have taken on the question of advocacy in the mental health arena 15 years ago, I would have approached it primarily from a legislative place. I would have talked about what bills we could support, how we could engage our legislators in order to educate them about the topic, and so forth. In reading your question, I’ve realized how much my understanding of advocacy has changed.
Let me spell that change out for you.
What I’ve experienced over the years is that one of the greatest inhibitors to increasing awareness of – and support for – those living with mental illness is the silence that accompanies the issue.
Individuals living with mental illness are understandably reluctant to share their diagnoses with others due to the stigma that is attached to the area. Loved ones also frequently remain “in the closet” about a loved one’s illness for similar reasons.
What my time advocating for LGBT concerns taught me is that the most effective way to affect social change is to let people get to know someone from a particular community.
With that in mind, the primary way I do advocacy is to get people to start talking with each other and sharing their experiences and stories of living with (or loving someone who lives with) a mental illness. Once that begins to happen, minds and hearts change. Then legislation will change as well.
I know that each of us has different gifts, and that some individuals are called to do advocacy primarily through legislative efforts. I understand that and totally support their efforts. Each of us must respond in ways that best fit us.
It’s taken me years to learn that the most effective way I can engage in advocacy is to get people talking and sharing their stories. Whenever I can, I try to talk about my own experiences loving people who live with Alzheimer’s; with a diagnosis of bipolar; with depression; with thoughts of suicide; with schizophrenia. In doing so, I believe I’m helping those who listen understand there is safe space for them to share their stories as well.
When those heart-felt stories are shared first hand, I truly believe the world is changed FOREVER: one story at a time.