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 is advocacy?

We all know how frustrating it can be when people aren't listening to us. Unfortunately, having a mental health problem can sometimes mean it's even harder to have your opinions and ideas taken seriously by others. This can be very difficult to deal with, especially when you need to communicate often with health and social care professionals. You might find they don't always offer you all the opportunities and choices you would like, or involve you fully in decisions about your care.

Advocacy means getting support from another person to help you express your views and wishes, and help you stand up for your rights. Someone who helps you in this way is called your advocate.

What does an advocate do?

The role of an advocate depends on your situation and the support you want. But they are there to support your choices.

An advocate can:

  • listen to your views and concerns
  • help you explore your options and rights (without pressuring you)
  • provide information to help you make informed decisions
  • help you contact relevant people, or contact them on your behalf
  • accompany you and support you in meetings or appointments.

An advocate will not:

  • give you their personal opinion
  • solve problems and make decisions for you
  • make judgements about you.

The support of an advocate is often particularly useful in meetings when you might not feel confident in expressing yourself. They can:

  • support you to ask all the questions you want to ask
  • make sure all the points you want covered are included in the meeting
  • explain your options to you without giving their opinion
  • help keep you safe during the meeting – for example, if you find the meeting upsetting, your advocate can ask for a break until you feel able to continue.

(For information about the sorts of problems advocates can help with, see our page on working with an advocate.)

"I find it helpful and reassuring to have a third person in the room willing to support my stance... [It] makes me feel far less worried about being misunderstood or having my concerns dismissed."

What is a mental health advocate?

Meet the advocates of Bristol Mind who can tell you more about what they do.

"My best ever advocate could sit and listen to it all pour out, however ill I was. Then help me get it into words that the people I needed to listen would take seriously."

Who can be my advocate?

There are different kinds of advocate you could approach. For example:

  • You can access a professional advocacy service through some organisations and charities. They are independent of the NHS and social services.
  • Your friends, family, or carers can act as an advocate for you.

See our page on types of advocacy for more details about who can be an advocate, and how different advocacy services work.

Do I have a legal right to an advocate?

In some circumstances you may be legally entitled to a professional advocate, such as:

This is called statutory advocacy. See our page on statutory advocacy for more information on whether this applies to you, and how to access this kind of advocacy.

Phil's advocacy story

Phil and Tom have worked together on housing and benefits issues which have helped him stay well.

"Advocates are so important!... Mental illness at times can make it hard to do what needs to be done, to stand up for yourself, to be listened to or taken seriously."

This information was published in March 2018. We will revise it in 2021.

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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