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Advocacy in mental health

Explains what advocacy is and how it can help you. Gives information on different types of advocacy, including statutory advocates, what sort of situations an advocate can help you with, and how to find an advocate.

What advocacy services are there?

There are many different advocacy services that can help you, depending on your situation and what sort of help you want.

Community advocacy services

Community advocacy refers to all advocacy that is not a legal entitlement. It can support you to cope with a range of situations you may come across in your daily life. See our page on working with an advocate for examples of situations an advocate can support you with.

You can find out more about community advocacy services from organisations such as:

Advocacy for specific groups

There are also charities and organisations which support specific groups and may be able to offer you advocacy services. For example:

Group advocacy (also known as collective advocacy)

This is where a group of people with similar experiences meet to support each other and collectively strengthen their voice. You can find more information from:

Peer advocacy

Peer advocates have lived experience of a mental health problem and can support you to cope with a range of problems you may be experiencing. You can find more information from:

Statutory advocacy

In some circumstances, you may be legally entitled to an advocate. These are Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs), Independent Mental Capacity Advocates (IMCAs) and advocates supporting people under the Care Act 2014. See our page on statutory advocacy for more information.

How do I find an advocate?

There are various organisations that can help you find advocacy services in your local area. See our page on how to find an advocate for more information.

Can my family, friends or carer be my advocate?

Friends, family or carers can be an advocate for you, if you want them to. It can be really helpful to get support from someone close to you, who you trust.

However, it's important to be aware that being your advocate is a different kind of relationship to being your friend or family member, and may be challenging at times. You might want to agree with them beforehand what you both understand the role to mean, and what both your boundaries are.

What they should do

  • listen to you
  • help you to find information
  • discuss your options with you
  • come with you to appointments
  • help you explain your wishes to others
  • make phone calls for you (if you want)
  • give you encouragement and reassurance.

What they shouldn't do

  • tell you what to do
  • assume that they already know what you want, or what's best for you
  • be noticeably judgemental or disapproving of your decisions
  • argue with you if they disagree with your choices
  • make decisions on your behalf without asking you first.

My parents and sister were my speakers for me. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for them and their strength and fighting attitude to get me help.

Even if you don't choose to call them your advocate, you may find that just talking to a family member, friend or a carer helps you work out what your questions and concerns are. If others want ideas about how to support you, you could show them our information on helping someone else.

I had one friend who helped me by just listening and never judging. Without him my recovery time would have been much longer.

If you appoint them under a lasting power of attorney, your friend or family member can act as your attorney if you lose mental capacity. They don't have to be a lawyer to do this, but they do have to be over 18 and be someone you trust to make decisions for you. (See our legal pages on mental capacity for more information.)

Can I be my own advocate?

Being able to speak up for yourself about what you want is sometimes described as 'self-advocacy'. But it's not always easy to do this when you have a mental health problem. Having another person act as your advocate doesn't have to mean you aren't ever able to stand up for yourself at all – but it can be really helpful to have this support when you're not well.

Whenever you feel ready, here are some steps you could take to feel more able to advocate for yourself:

  • Build your self-esteem. Improving your self-esteem and building self-confidence can help you feel more assertive. You can find tips in our page on how to increase your self-esteem.
  • Prepare for appointments. Do as much as you're able to prepare before talking to health and social care professionals. Our pages on talking to your GP and making yourself heard provide ideas for things you could try.
  • Learn self-advocacy skills. Some organisations run training sessions and workshops to help you learn new skills to support yourself, such as MindOut.
  • Think about ways to deal with stigma. You can find some suggestions on our page on dealing with stigma.

You can learn more about self-advocacy from the Disability Rights UK website.

This information was published in March 2018.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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