We may not always feel like we're being listened to, especially when it comes to getting treatment and support for our mental health.
We may need to talk to lots of people, like doctors and therapists, which can feel overwhelming. Especially if we find they don't always listen to our views or involve us in decisions. This can feel really upsetting and frustrating. But this is where advocacy can help.
Advocacy means getting support from another person to help you voice your views and stand up for your rights.
Jump to page information on:
- What is an advocate?
- How can an advocate help me?
- What types of advocacy are there?
- When do I have a right to an advocate?
- Can I get help from other advocacy services?
- How can I find an advocate?
- What if I’m not happy with my advocate?
- Can a family member or carer be my advocate?
- Can a friend or partner be my advocate?
I don't think a lot of young people know about advocacy and it's important to be informed about it.
Advocates help you speak up about the things that are important to you. Different types of advocates can help you in different ways.
They are independent, which means they don't work for the NHS, local councils or social services.
Young people we spoke to described an advocate as:
- “Someone who can speak up for you and voice your point of view when you feel like you can't do it yourself.”
- “Someone who can guide you through a situation by helping you to decide what to do.”
- “Someone who can represent you and make sure your views are understood.”
- “They're someone that knows the system better than you and knows what’s going on. They're up on medical language and know how to explain what the doctors and nurses are saying in a way that you can understand.”
- “Someone who supports you in situations and can speak on your behalf if you want that. It could be emotional support so they can help you articulate how you're feeling.”
Advocates we spoke to said:
- “We can help you make informed decisions and work through all the options, but the decision is up to you.”
- “We will genuinely be there 100% for the person. To give them that voice to stand up for their rights and to move forward in the way they want.”
- “I see my role as ensuring people's rights. Not only helping them understand their rights, but also, how to exercise them. I echo or strengthen their voice and raise issues with or on behalf of them. While also building confidence and strategies that they can then use to self-advocate in the future.”
I definitely felt I could be more honest because I knew they were independent. Knowing that they had my best interests in mind made it easier.
Advocates can provide different support depending on your situation and what you need help with.
- Listen to you. For example, they can talk to you in private about how you're feeling and what's going on for you. Or if you're not up to talking, you could write them a letter.
- Help you to get information so you understand your rights. For example, they can help you understand what rights you have if you're sectioned or you're an informal patient in hospital.
- Talk through options with you so you're able to make your own decisions. For example, if you're in CAMHS, they can help you understand and have a voice in your treatment and support.
- Support you to voice your views. For example, they could help you to write emails or letters, go to meetings with you or explain your views to other people. It could also be something like helping you to set up a youth voice group.
- Make sure your questions and issues are heard and that you get answers. For example, if you have a question or problem, they can follow up on it to try to make sure you get an answer or it gets sorted.
- Make decisions for you
- Judge you
They won't put any pressure on you to make decisions you're uncomfortable with or make decisions quicker than you're comfortable with.
Questions to ask your advocate
You might want to ask:
- What can you do to help me?
- Are there any things you can’t help me with?
- Are you able to help me with…?
- How often can I see you?
- How will I contact you?
- How long will you be able to help me for?
- Will everything I say to you be kept confidential?
- Are there other advocates I can get help from?
My advocate helped me through the first stages of getting treatment for my mental illness from CAMHS... She also helped me share my views with my family and make plans so that I could better support myself.
Your advocate will keep what you tell them confidential.
They will only share what you tell them in certain situations. For example if you ask them to tell, or if they're worried that you or someone else could be in danger.
For more information, see our page on confidentiality.
Figuring out what the advocate can do, and how they work, will help you decide whether you want their help. Advocates wouldn't be in that line of work if they didn't want to advocate for people.
In some situations, you might have a legal right to support from an advocate. This is called statutory advocacy.
Even if you have a right to an advocate, it's your choice whether you want their support. If you decide to turn it down at first, you can always change your mind later.
Here are some examples of when you have a legal right to an advocate:
If you live in Wales, you have a right to an IMHA if you are:
- An informal patient staying in hospital for treatment and support for your mental health
- On a CTO
If you live in England, you have a right to an IMHA if you are:
- On certain sections (like section 2 or 3)
- On a CTO
- A voluntary patient under consideration for electro-convulsive therapy (ECT)
Some CAMHS wards in England also have advocates for voluntary patients, but it depends on what's available in your area. Find out more in our information on general or community advocacy.
How can an IMHA help me?
An IMHA can help you understand:
- Your rights under the Mental Health Act 1983
- Any medical treatment you're having or might be given
They can also help with practical things like:
- Representing you in meetings and ward rounds
- Helping you to raise your views with ward staff
- Helping you to access your medical notes and records
- Making a complaint about your treatment or support
- Making an application to the Mental Health Tribunal
How can I find an IMHA?
If you're in hospital, IMHAs should visit your ward regularly. You can also ask a member of the ward staff to put you in touch with them.
If you're on a CTO, you can ask your care co-ordinator to put you in touch with an IMHA.
The advocate would have a debrief with staff on the ward to talk about things we've raised and what we wanted to happen. I think the ward staff really respected our opinions that we gave to the advocate.
If you want to make a complaint about your NHS treatment and support, you have a legal right to getting support from an advocate.
How can an advocate help me?
They can help you:
- Decide if making a complaint is the right thing for you
- Work out what you want to get out of your complaint
- Write the complaint letter and send it to the right people
- Help you understand the response and explain your options
How can I find them?
If you're in England, you can contact your local health watch. Ask them which advocacy agency provides this service in your area.
If you're in Wales, your local Community Health Council will be able to help you.
I spoke to the advocate regularly and we discussed problems I had with staff and whether to make a formal complaint. We ended up doing that informally.
An advocate will usually work for an advocacy agency. You can find out about advocacy services in your area by:
- Asking your council for a list of advocacy agencies where you live
- Searching the internet for advocacy agencies near you
- Using the Barnado's advocacy service search tool
- Contacting your local Mind
- Contacting the National Youth Advocacy Service
You could also ask for help from:
- Your school or college. They may be able to give you information or help refer you to an advocate. Speak to someone like your pastoral care team or student wellbeing services for more advice.
- Your doctor. They may have information they can give you on local advocacy services.
- Your care team. If you're in hospital for your mental health, or you're getting treatment and support through CAMHS.
My advice for other young people working with an advocate would be to really embrace any activities or tasks that your advocate brings you to do. Even if these activities seem like they won't help.
If you don't have a legal right to an advocate, you can still get support to make sure your voice is heard.
The type of support will depend on your situation and what sort of help you want.
Below are some options of other types of advocacy support. You won't have to pay for any of these services:
Some services, charities and organisations provide a type of advocacy called ‘community advocacy’. You might also hear this called ‘general advocacy’.
Community or general advocates are professional advocates. They can support you with situations or decisions when you don't have a legal right to advocacy.
How can they help?
- Help you to access mental health services
- Help you find out about different medication or treatment options
- Support you to express your views about your medication or treatment
- Help you write letters or emails about your medication or treatment
- Go with you to meetings and help you prepare for them
- Help you with self-advocacy
Depending on where you live, there will be different types of community or general advocacy available.
Where can I find more information?
You could also ask your doctor if they know of any local advocacy services.
Peer advocates are young people who might have been through something similar to you in the past. Or they might have a similar mental health problem.
How can they help?
Peer advocates can use their knowledge and experience to support you with any problems you’re going through.
For example, if they've experienced a similar problem to you, they can talk you through how they handled it.
It can feel comforting to speak to people who understand you. You might find it rewarding to share your experiences with them too.
Where can I find more information?
You can find more information from your local Mind.
It's good to have someone who has been through the same things as you.
Some charities and organisations that support specific groups may also be able to offer you advocacy services. For example:
Just because you don't have a legal right to something, that doesn't mean that your needs aren't as great or your experience isn't as bad.
What can I expect from these services?
Depending on where you live, different types of advocacy services and the help they can offer might be different. Different advocacy services might work in different ways too.
You might find that some services:
- Have rules about who they can help. If you're unsure, it's worth reaching out to see if they can help you. If they can't, they might be able to tell you who can.
- Need an adult to help with your referral. For example, they may need an adult to fill out or sign a form. This can be someone like a parent, carer, guardian or your doctor.
- Have long waiting times for support. While you're waiting, you could consider getting help from a parent, carer, friend or partner. You could also try some of our tips on advocating for yourself.
If you're not happy with your advocate, you could try speaking to them first and letting them know how you feel.
If that doesn't work, you could:
- Make a complaint to the advocacy service. You can ask the service how to do this. They might ask you to write a letter or email, or to fill in a form.
- Ask the advocacy service if you could see a different person. They might not be able to find you a new advocate – it depends on how busy they are or how many people work there. But they should listen to how you feel and try to work with you to fix the problem.
Family members and carers can help to get your voice heard in some situations, but they aren't the same as professional advocates.
The support they can offer you will be different to what professional advocates can.
It's helpful to consider the differences in how professional advocates or family and carers can support you.
Benefits of getting support from a family member or carer
You might find that it's easier to:
- Speak to someone you know or who already understands what you’re going through.
- Arrange to get support from a family member or carer, rather than a professional advocate. For example, you might not have a legal right to an advocate or cannot find support from general or peer advocates.
If you would like a family member or carer to help you get your voice heard, have a chat with them first.
Try to explain the type of support you would like and how they can help you. They might need some time to think about whether they can help you in the way you've asked.
Things to consider before asking a family member or carer
Your family members or carers:
- Aren't independent, unlike professional advocates. They might have their own views about what's best for you and their views might be different to yours.
- Don't need to keep what you tell them confidential, unlike professional advocates. You can still ask them to keep what you've told them private.
- Might not have experience of dealing with the situations or decisions that you’re facing. Professional advocates will have experience of supporting young people in unfamiliar situations. And if they don't have the information you need, they will probably know how to get it.
- Would need to know everything about your mental health and treatment, which you might not feel comfortable with.
- Might not be able to offer you the kind of support you need, or you might not want them to support you in this way.
Friends and partners can help you get your voice heard, but aren't the same as professional advocates. The support they can offer you will be different to what professional advocates can.
Even if they have experienced something similar to you:
- They might not feel confident enough to help
- They might feel they don’t understand enough to help
If you'd like them to support you to get your voice heard, you can ask them how they feel about it. Try to respect whatever answer they give you.
Remember: family members, carers, friends and partners can still be involved and help you in other ways.
Whatever you choose, you deserve to have someone stand up for you.
Getting support from another person can be really beneficial, even if it's not a professional advocate.
Or local council. This is the group of people responsible for certain services in your area, like social care and education.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
Being sectioned means that you’re kept in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983.
There are different types of sections, each with different rules to keep you safe and give you treatment.
The length of time that you can be kept in hospital depends on which section you are on.
See our page on being sectioned for more information.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
You're a voluntary patient when you, or someone who looks after you, agree for you to stay in hospital to get treatment and support for your mental health. This is sometimes called being an informal patient.
See our page on being an informal patient for more information.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
These are services that support young people with their mental health.
You might see them called different names sometimes, but they offer the same type of services for young people:
- In Wales, they're called Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (SCAMHS)
- In England or Wales, you might also hear them called Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS)
Find out more in our CAMHS information hub.
In some situations, you have a legal right to support from an advocate. This is called statutory advocacy.
For example, if you’re sectioned in hospital, you have the right to an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA).
See our page on advocacy for more information about statutory advocacy.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This is a hospital where you go to get treatment and support for your mental health.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA)
An IMHA can help you understand your rights under the Mental Health Act 1983 and any medical treatment you’re having or might be given. They can also help you with practical things, like attending meetings or seeing your medical notes and records.
See our page on advocacy for more information about IMHAs.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This describes the area of the hospital you're staying in. You may also hear it called a unit.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
Community Treatment Order (CTO)
This is when you’ve been discharged from hospital but you still need to follow certain rules. For example, taking medication or seeing your doctor. If you become unwell, you could be brought back to hospital.
You can only be put on a CTO if you’ve been on certain sections, like 3 or 37.
See our page on being sectioned for information about the different sections.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
Mental Health Tribunal (MHT)
This is a special court that you can apply to when you’re sectioned. The Tribunal decides whether your section can end. They can also give advice about things like hospital leave, hospital transfers and being put on a Community Treatment Order (CTO).
In England, the Tribunal is called the Mental Health Tribunal. In Wales, the Tribunal is called the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales.
When you have a Tribunal hearing, three people make the decisions. These include:
- a judge
- a doctor
- someone with experience and expertise in that area of mental health – usually a social worker or nurse.
This is your main point of contact if you’re having ongoing treatment and support for your mental health. They should keep in close contact with you and answer any questions you may have.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This is a medical doctor that specialises in mental health (psychiatry). Psychiatrists can:
- carry out assessments
- decide with you which treatments to try, including medication
- be your therapist for a treatment, like group therapy.
This is a trained professional who runs or supervises your therapy. Therapists help you explore how you’re thinking, feeling and behaving, and what can help you in the future.
There are different types of training and education for therapists. This means they all have different titles, like psychologist, therapist, counsellor or psychiatrist.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This is a request to a service asking them to review:
- how you’re feeling
- what support you need.
The referral helps explain to the new service why they should see you, and what the best way to help you might be.
Sometimes referrals can be made by yourself, a family member or social worker. But they’re often made by your doctor as they understand your medical history.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
The quotes on this page are from young people we spoke to while making this information. They've given us their consent to use their quotes in our information. The words, experiences and opinions in the quotes are not related to the young people shown in any of the photographs we use.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.