What is advocacy?
What is advocacy?
An advocate is someone who can both listen to you and speak for you in times of need.
I have an assessment coming up for my incapacity benefit, which is worrying me. I could do with some support!
Mental health advocacy has developed in the United Kingdom over the last twenty years as one way of challenging the discrimination faced by users and survivors of the mental health system.
Advocacy in all its forms seeks to ensure that people are able to speak out, to express their views and defend their rights.
Having a mental health problem, or experiencing mental distress, often means that your opinions and ideas are not taken seriously, or that you are not offered the opportunities and choices you would like.
Being labelled with a diagnosis of mental illness is often linked to poverty, unemployment and exclusion from everyday life. In its simplest form, advocacy can mean just listening respectfully to someone.
For people who already experience discrimination and exclusion on the basis of their ethnic or cultural background, physical disability, gender, sexuality or age, having a mental health problem creates another barrier to social inclusion. It can make voicing opinions, wants and needs almost impossible.
Advocacy is a process of supporting and enabling people to:
- express their views and concerns
- access information and services
- defend and promote their rights and responsibilities
- explore choices and options
An advocate might help you access information you need, or go with you to meetings or interviews, in a supportive role. In some cases, you might want your advocate to be more active. An advocate might write letters on your behalf, or speak for you in situations where you don’t feel able to speak for yourself.
Friends, family and mental health professionals can all be supportive and helpful, but this may be difficult for them if you are doing things they disagree with, even though it’s what you want. Health and social services staff have a ‘duty of care’ to the people they work with, which means that they can’t support you in doing things that they think will be bad for you. But an advocate is independent, and will represent your wishes without judging them or putting forward their own personal opinion.
People don’t need an advocate all the time. But they need to know that advocacy is available and how to make contact, if the need arises.