What is a drug addiction or mental illness advocate? Does it cost money? Do you have to be certified? What kind of schooling do I need before I can start advocating? Is there a difference between an mental health advocate and a self-advocate?
All are very good questions. The simple and short answer is that an advocate (advəkit) a person who publicly supports, champions or recommends a particular cause or even in policy…such as “an advocate of children’s mental health rights.”
The First Step In Advocating Starts With Self
We may lead the fight as a crusader or be the person licking the envelopes with the brochures to mail information to help educate others to the cause. It can be for a large group to stop mental health and substance abuse discrimination and stigma or we could be self-advocates standing up for our own wellness or treatment. Yes, if you ever pleaded with a doctor to try a different medication or treatment, or maybe worked on losing weight or some other wellness goal, then you were already self-advocating. To self-advocate, you need to be aware of your own wellness needs. That is the first step in Advocating…Self-advocating.
Step One: Educate yourself. With substance abuse issues note your triggers, work your plan. With mental health disorders remember, it’s your over-all ability to handle emotional changes and moods in your day-to-day life not just your “diagnosis.” Don’t put all your faith in that one diagnosis, they change sometimes, even though here at Charlotte Behavioral Health Care we have very capable therapists and counseling services. Sometimes we peers may not present with the same “conditions” and “symptoms.” The therapists can only go on what they observe and what we tell them. (View and Download CBHC Brochure PDF)
Step Two: Be willing to talk about your “mental health.” Even the hard to talk about times, can help you remember where you were and how far you have come… even if it’s a few steps, a few baby steps forward is better than where you were. “I remember talking to Dr. Matthews joking because a few years ago when I was first getting services here I presented with Borderline Personality Disorder at one visit, then the next appointment I was back to Bipolar Disorder.”
Step Three: Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If therapy is recommended, ask what kind of therapy, how long it takes, the process and if you need to Google it and research it. If you’re not sure it’s for you, just say no, and you would like to try something different. I once asked one therapist to turn off the soft ocean sound of soothing music he was playing in the background because it was irritating me. He was trying to create an atmosphere of peace but it triggered rage…not every technique works for every individual. The same goes for medication therapy, psychotropic therapy. Ask questions. The three most important questions that you should ask:
- What type of side-effects medications have, go over the simplest… Dry mouth, headache, tummy issues and touch on some of the more important huge weight gain, heart palpitations, tics, sexual side effects? Knowing the side effects of the medication can help you determine a course of action.
- Are there any negative drug interactions? Your therapist should be well aware of every medication and/or supplement that you are taking: prescribed and/or over-the-counter. Right down to you eye drops. Drug interactions can amplify negative side-effects.
- The cost? – without insurance medications can take huge part of your salary. There are alternatives, ask for generic prescriptions (while not always strongest or best to go) or you can look into programs that the pharmaceutical companies might sponsor.
What about being a drug addiction or mental illness advocate?
The good news is being a drug abuse addiction or mental illness advocate does not require you to be an addict or to have a mental health disorder. It does NOT cost money and you Do NOT need to be certified. What is needed: the desire and willingness to try to make a difference, to lend your voice in ending discrimination and stigma against mental illness! You don’t need a placard or sign while marching around screaming slogans or a battle cry. Just make one effort each day to educate someone about mental illness. Even if that person is you. By doing that, and that alone, makes you an advocate. 1000 voices whispering “stop mental illness discrimination and stigma” is still going to be heard loudly. Join your voice, even if it’s a whisper, an e-mail, a tweet, a share.