In 2020, one in five adults living in the United States experienced a mental illness. With that level of prevalence, even if you do not experience mental illness, you probably know someone who does. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but we want to talk about more than awareness. We want to talk about how to be better advocates for mental health.
We asked Sara Barney, Guild’s ACT Program Manager, to talk with us about mental health advocacy. The first thing she advised is to start small. She said, “starting with what is important to you or your family right now.”
Sometimes small starts lead to big changes. Sara shared this powerful story with us as an example of why it’s important to advocate for those who experience mental illness:
“I was working with a woman that lived in a St. Public Housing apartment. She had been having an increase in her mental health symptoms, which resulted in her receiving a lease violation, and they attempted to evict her from her housing. I advocated for her not to be evicted and for her to be allowed to have an accommodation to stabilize her mental health symptoms. This ended up going to court, and my client won; she could get back on her medications and return to her apartment. With the help of her lawyer, they pursued additional legal action against the St. Paul Public Housing Authority, which resulted in a major victory in Requests for Reasonable Accommodations in St. Paul Public housing. The legal victory became case-law and undoubtedly has impacted many other people with disabilities needing reasonable accommodations to maintain their housing.”
Sara’s story also elucidates another important fact; mental health does not exist in a vacuum. There are always systemic issues that factor into people’s ability to get and sustain treatment and support. Sara offered us a list of systems issues that most commonly affect Guild’s clients, like; “bias towards people with mental illness, shortage of qualified providers for psychiatric care and community treatment, cracks in the mental health and criminal justice system, poverty, homelessness and lack of affordable housing, barriers in accessing crisis stabilization services for adolescents, lack of inpatient or residential treatment programs, stress on the EMS system that can delay response when people are in crisis.”
Tips & Resources
With all of the barriers in our systems, there’s no wonder our communities could benefit from passionate advocates. Here are some ways you can help:
- Talk about mental health in your social circles, family, and colleagues in ways that reduce stigma.
- Subscribe to newsletters from advocacy groups like NAMI.
- Get involved in your local advisory councils.
- Reach out to your local, state, and national representatives to advocate for policy change.