“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. “ Dr Suess – The Lorax

I recently attended and presented at a Wellways advocacy forum in Shepparton.

At the beginning of the day, we shared what advocacy means to us, and also the differences we want to see in our communities.

I didn’t realise that ‘advocacy’ comes from the Latin ‘to be called to stand beside’. This is something I can relate to as a consumer and former Peer Worker. I’ve often called upon my family and friends to ‘stand beside’ me as I try to wade through the ups and downs. In my previous work, I tried to walk beside the participants.

I also gave a lived experience presentation, sharing my life experiences with a room full of strangers. I shared what had helped me during my times of ill health, and also what didn’t.

While preparing for the day, I started to realise that anyone can be an advocate.

My neighbours were advocates when they heard me crying and invited me over for a cup of tea.

The GP that referred me to an excellent psychiatrist was an advocate.

The nurse that offered to take me for a walk outside when I was an inpatient and just had a long therapy session was an advocate.

The boss who told me, “Everything you’re doing now can be done another day” and suggested I go home and rest when I was beginning to have a manic episode, was an excellent advocate.

The Sydney Sexual Assault Clinic worker who saw me twice a week and consulted with the mental health team while I was living there, and then continued to speak to me on the phone in Shepparton, was an incredibly strong advocate.

Everyone can make a choice to be an advocate (or not). 

Later in the day, we started to discuss the issues that were important to us. Two of the many points my table came up with were fighting stigma and education about mental illness in schools and the wider community.

Quoted in the information booklet was:
“For advocacy to be effective, it should be guided by the knowledge and experiences of those who have been affected by disadvantage. It should return power to those who have lost it.”

Yes, I have lost power during my experience of mental health issues. At times I’ve been unable to make decisions about my health care and I’ve been unable to sustain full-time work. Now, however, I can be the person (with the experience) to help guide the advocacy initiatives.

Claire Young