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Understanding advocacy – for young people

Information for young people explaining advocacy and how advocates can help you to get your voice heard. Also explains how you can advocate for yourself.

This page is also available in Welsh.

This page is also available in Welsh.

What is advocacy for mental health?

We may not always feel like we’re being listened to, especially when it comes to getting treatment and support for our mental health.

There may be lots of people you need to talk to, like doctors and therapists, which can feel overwhelming. You might also find they don’t always listen to your views or involve you in decisions. This can be really upsetting and frustrating.

This is where something called advocacy can help.

Advocacy means getting support from another person to help you voice your views and stand up for your rights.

Someone who helps you do this is called your advocate.

On this page, we will help you understand advocacy and how advocates can support you with your mental health.

This page covers:

“I don’t think a lot of young people know about advocacy and it’s important to be informed about it.”

What is an advocate?

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 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.”

How can an advocate help me?

Advocates can provide different support depending on your situation and what you need help with.

Advocates can:

  • 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 a voluntary 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.

Advocates won’t:

  • Make decisions for you
  • Judge you

You might find that different advocates can give you help for different problems. Or if your situation changes, you might get help from a different advocate. For example, if you’re a voluntary patient at first, then you’re sectioned.

“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.

“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.”

What types of advocacy are there?

There are different types of advocacy services and ways to advocate that can help you get your voice heard.

The type of advocacy will depend on your situation and what sort of help you need.

Here’s a breakdown of the main types of advocacy for mental health:

“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.”

When do I have a right to an advocate?

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:

Most advocates in psychiatric hospitals are called Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs). They’re not part of the ward staff.

If you live in Wales, you have a right to an IMHA if:

If you live in England, you have a right to an IMHA if:

  • You’re on certain sections (like section 2 or 3)
  • You’re on a CTO
  • You’re a voluntary patient under consideration for Electro Convulsive Therapy

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:

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 make a complaint about the people providing your care. For example, your doctor, psychiatrist or therapist.

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.”

Can I get help from other advocacy services?

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.

“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.”

Here are some options of other types of advocacy support:

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.

For example, you might be a voluntary patient in England and need help getting your voice heard on the ward. Or you might be experiencing problems with your care at CAMHS.

How can they help?

They could:

  • 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?

If you live in England, you could contact VoiceAbility, POhWER or Barnardo’s. These are charity organisations that offer free advocacy services.

If you live in Wales, you could contact the National Youth Advocacy Service or Barnardo’s.

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:

  • Centrepoint offers advocacy for young people in England who are homeless and experiencing mental health problems.
  • Coram Voice offers mental health advocacy for young people in care, as well as care leavers.

You won’t have to pay for any of these services.

If you can’t find a community or peer advocate, read our information on family, friends or carers as advocates and being your own advocate.

“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.”

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 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.

How can I find an advocate?

An advocate will usually work for an advocacy agency.

You can find out about advocacy services in your area by:

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.

What if I’m not happy with my advocate?

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.

Can a family member or carer be my advocate?

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.

Things to consider

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.

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.

Can a friend or partner be my advocate?

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.”

This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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