I’ve just returned from Mental Health America’s annual conference in Washington D.C. One of the things I enjoy the most about MHA as an organization is their genuine commitment to including people with mental illness in their leadership. As someone who both works with the mentally ill and also has a mental illness I appreciated spending a conference week of being talked with rather than being talked to.
The thing is, the job of advocacy has almost always fallen to those with lived experience; either those who are mentally ill themselves or people who love them. Psychology does not have a particularly deep history of self-reform (and I say this as someone studying to be a psychologist.)
Advocacy by those with lived experience, however, is the most powerful form of advocacy. This power has both an external and an internal manifestation. Externally, because nothing has the resonance like the authenticity of experience. Data drives the search for answers, but anecdote drives the conversation. We ignore either at our peril.
It is imperative, though, that we with our hard-won lived experience become cognizant of the internal power of advocacy. This kind of power is perhaps more profound than any of the coping strategies or therapeutic methods we encounter on our journey. The internal power of advocacy is the power to turn illness into strength used for the benefit of others. When we advocate, we take control of our own narrative; we harness it and create from it a tool we can wield for the good of our brothers and sisters. Such a practice is inherently therapeutic, as it takes back control over a domain of our lives we may have thought we lost control over forever.
Use your story to speak out on behalf of others. When you speak on their behalf you speak out for yourself. When you try to better the lives of others with mental illness you enrich your own life as well. When you join your voice to the chorus of advocacy you join a community that knows you more intensely than many of your closest intimates.
Speak and be heard.