Whether you have a diagnosis of mental illness or are seeking one out, becoming your own mental health advocate is crucial. Many people don’t have the support of others when dealing with mental illnesses. Sometimes, the only people who will advocate for them is themselves.
Becoming your own mental health advocate isn’t a difficult process, but it is a process. There are things to do and things not to do when traveling along that road.
Here are 6 steps for advocating for yourself:
Step #1: Accept your Symptoms
The first step towards becoming your own self advocate is to accept that your symptoms point towards a mental illness. For example, if you find you’re not sleeping but still have a ton of frenetic, pressured energy, you could be suffering from a manic episode of bipolar disorder. Make a note of your symptoms and take them into a professional.
Step #2: Build a Treatment Team
In order to acquire a diagnosis of mental illness, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you must build a treatment team. You need a therapist at the very least, and if you find your mental illness can’t be managed without medication, you’ll have to find a psychiatrist.
You want to find a team of professionals who can treat you holistically. Ask your primary care physician for referrals to psych doctors.
Step #3: Educate Yourself about Your Mental Illness
Once you have a diagnosis, find reputable sources to read about your mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a fabulous resource on all manner of mental health conditions.
If you have bipolar disorder, there are also books like An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (not affiliate), by Kay Redfield Jameson. Ask your treatment team for resources. They’ll be happy to provide.
Step #4: Be an Expert on Yourself
You’re not a doctor, so don’t try to be one, but providing information to your treatment team can only help you. Rely on your treatment team to best interpret the information.
Step #5: Practice Self-Care
You won’t be able to help your treatment team take care of you if you’re worn out. Look after yourself. Practice daily self-care.
Get some sleep, eat several small meals, drink enough water, socialize with real people, go outside, and move your body for at least 30 minutes per day. These six self-care tenants, outlined by a post on WellandWealthy.org, will help you feel better if you do them more frequently than not.
Step #6: Express Yourself Calmly
Sometimes, when advocating for yourself, you will face resistance and stigma.
If this happens, then try to remain calm. Take deep breaths and center yourself. Tell yourself that getting angry won’t help you, and control your knee-jerk reactions.
Once you’ve got a handle on your emotions, express yourself calmly. Explain what you need and what you expect from the people you’re explaining this to.
If you can’t express yourself in the moment, take a break, and write down what you need to say. Come back to the people who resisted or stigmatized you and read from your writing.
Becoming your own self-advocate is a process, one you can master. Accept your symptoms, build your treatment team, educate yourself about your mental illness, be an expert on yourself, practice self-care, and express yourself calmly in the face of resistance and stigma.
If you practice these steps, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming your own self-advocate.
I wish you well in your journey.