According to the latest data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, around 1 in 5 US adults — or 51.5 million people — are affected by mental illness each year. And experts agree that this number may further increase, as the effects of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic can easily worsen mental health conditions for children, teenagers, and adults alike. An increase in mental health support requests over the past 18 months indicates a huge spike in depression and anxiety.
The good news is that everyone can help combat this crisis by becoming a mental health advocate. A mental health advocate is someone who is willing to be a voice for people who suffer mental health conditions, and educates their community on the challenges faced by people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other issues. Here are a few ways you can advocate for mental health:
Support people who need help
Family and friends play a key role in helping people with mental illness; they serve as a network of practical and emotional help. As a mental health advocate for someone you know, you can offer them support by keeping track of their sleeping and eating habits, reminding them to take medication, or helping them schedule appointments with their doctor.
Aside from ensuring your loved ones are undergoing treatment, it helps to think and talk about mental health in a way that promotes a positive, accepting stance towards mental illness. You can educate yourself by researching about the condition, and how to assist your loved ones through recovery.
Explore different ways to get help
Although the pandemic has exacerbated underlying mental health issues for many Americans, the barriers to receiving mental health care have existed long before. Around 122 million Americans live in areas lacking mental health professionals, and an additional 6,398 mental health providers are needed to fill these shortage gaps. Fortunately, medical professionals such as nurse practitioners who specialize in mental health care can practice telehealth to close these gaps.
For those who are worried a nurse may not be as effective as a psychologist, you can convince them not to be. Nurse practitioners who specialize in this field will have likely taken a post-master’s nurse practitioner program, which qualifies them to be a psychiatric mental health practitioner. As an advocate, it’s necessary to get to know the different kinds of professionals who can help address mental health conditions through proper diagnosis and management.
Talk about mental health openly
After advocating for change in your own life, it’s important to share your story to a wider audience. Beginning with family and friends, you can talk about your mental health condition and spread awareness to erase the stigma. Once you’re more comfortable talking about it, consider sharing your story on social media as well, to open up the discussion to more people.
Sharing articles, videos, and other content can also give you an opportunity to correct any misinformation about your mental health condition. Over time, you may even want to call on your social network to help you raise much-needed funds for nonprofits and other mental health organizations.
Volunteer for mental health organizations
As the world grapples with the pandemic and its aftermath, the World Health Organization has released a warning for a massive surge in mental health issues over the coming months and highlighted the need for increased investments in mental health support. However, most government agencies, nonprofit organizations, mental health clinics, and substance abuse centers are often understaffed and overwhelmed already. Volunteering your time and energy may be the best thing you can do as an advocate, even if you’re not a mental health professional.
Call or visit your local treatment facility and ask their volunteer coordinator to help fit your skills into their volunteer program. Many clinics have 24-hour crisis hotlines that need operators or require someone to make calls to patients receiving care at home. You can also lend a hand through various tasks like fixing up their computer networks, repainting their buildings, or driving patients around as needed.
Guest blogger: Denise McCoy