Over the past couple of years, mental health has become a more open discussion. As a result, we have finally seen a break in the silence surrounding the topic and shame is much less a part of the equation than it ever was. What we know is that one in five kids lives with a mental illness and mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in adolescents. Fifty percent of all lifetime mental illnesses start by age 14. As we continue to focus on mental health and what it looks like at all ages in a public way instead of behind closed doors, we break stigmas and dissolve fears. One way for every person to help this mission is to become an advocate for mental health.
Whether you, your child, or another loved one is affected by mental illness or you would just like to be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves, being an advocate for mental health is important work. You don’t even have to be a professional; you just have to care. An advocate does lots of things that can be filtered into three categories:
An advocate gives support. This means helping others to be heard, defending their rights, and considering their views and wishes when decisions are being made. It can also mean working with schools, doctors, and others to make sure mental health needs are met. The bottom line is, having the back of your child or other loved ones (or yourself!) is going to feel really good to that person: feeling the support of others can be a huge relief.
An advocate stays educated. Staying in the loop by learning about and understanding new developments and knowing their pros and cons is important when supporting others and can also help empower them. Being armed with information can help conquer fears.
An advocate stands up for what they believe in. Putting your beliefs into action by using your voice to advocate for others is a powerful thing and can also inspire others to do the same, creating a movement.
Speaking up for others who, for whatever reason, cannot speak up themselves is something we can do at many different levels. Championing a cause can give those affected by it inspiration and a reason to keep fighting.
Find more ways you can be an advocate for children’s mental health visit the On Our Sleeves website.
Gina McDowell is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Gina currently serves as a clinical educator, assessing training needs and developing educational opportunities for Behavioral Health therapy staff to promote ongoing use of current, evidence-based practice.
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