The Value of Advocacy and Your Mental Wellbeing.
Advocate – speaking, pleading, or arguing in favor of…
Recently it was brought to my attention that a local fresh water spring and the surrounding area is in danger of becoming eliminated. This spring has been around for millennia and to be transparent really isn’t “owned” by anyone. It provides fresh water to thousands of people and it is home to just as many animals and the woodland creatures that live in unity within the ecosystem of the Minnesota River Valley. The area is potentially at risk of being destroyed and “bought”, it would disappear due to a large company wanting to purchase the land for residential development. And I don’t like it.
This austerity provides me with passion, purpose, and a significant desire for me to advocate for something I stand for in this world; fresh, free water, preserved land, and other environmental causes to be concerned about. Ultimately, it is a great way to explore my mental health, emotional intelligence, challenge my psychology, and in this very contentious world that we live in learn to work my empathy muscle, to advocate for my needs, the needs of beings that can’t represent themselves and for the community at large. Rather than say Fuck it, I can’t do anything about it. Or it’s bigger than me… I want to invite you to consider advocacy as an important part of your mental wellbeing.
Advocacy involves endorsing the interests or cause of someone or a group of people. An advocate is a person who argues for, recommends, or supports a cause or policy. Advocacy is also about helping people find their voice. And this is where your mental health comes in…
Below I describe three types of advocacy - self-advocacy, individual advocacy and systems advocacy all which provide a benefit to our mental health; furthermore, I provide questions to develop a sense of advocacy and the importance it plays on your mental wellbeing.
Three Types of Advocacy.
Self-advocacy refers to an individual's ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate or assert his or her own interests, desires, needs, and rights.
Self-advocacy means understanding your strengths and needs, identifying your personal goals, knowing your legal rights and responsibilities, and communicating these to others.
Self-Advocacy is speaking up for oneself!
This is fundamental for your mental health because it provides you self-awareness, and reminds you to also set boundaries as you continue to share your thoughts. For instance, I often invite clients struggling with a pornography addiction or internal conflict to advocate for themselves.
Advocating for why “they” want to change. Rather than, for “whom” they need to change for.
In individual advocacy a person or group of people concentrate their efforts on just one or two individuals. Advocacy is having someone to stand beside you if you think something is unfair or that someone is treating you badly and you would like to do something to change it.
There are two common forms of individual advocacy - informal and formal advocacy. When people like parents, friends or family members speak out and advocate for vulnerable people this is termed informal advocacy. Formal advocacy more frequently involves organizations or agencies that are paid or pay their staff to advocate for someone or for a group of individuals.
In therapy I am an advocate for you and want to help provide you a way to have a clear understanding of your mental health needs.
Systems advocacy is about changing policies, laws or rules that impact how someone lives their life. These efforts can be targeted at a local, state, or national agency. The focus can be changing laws, or simply written or unwritten policy. What is targeted depends on the type of problem and who has authority over the problem.
An example of this for me personally, is my support for decriminalizing plant medicine; such as, psychoactive plants like Ayahuasca, cannabis, or psilocybe cubensis mushrooms “magic mushrooms”. Right now I am part of a community that is attempting to change the policies, laws and rules around the legality of these plants.
Questions to Explore Advocacy.
Questions are a fundamental way to see how specific positions and thoughts align with your ethics, values and ultimately, are they something you can “get behind” and advocate for…
I ask you to reflect on the following questions.
· What are you passionate about?
· What emotionally “activates” you to speak or have a voice or opinion on?
· What could I do to make it better?
· Do you want to keep it to yourself or stand for it?
· Can you see yourself “taking an action” for this cause? No matter how small or big?
· Do you want to share this information about your thoughts with others?
All these questions are a primer for you to clearly see what your passions, causes and voice is; moreover, these questions provide you with a direction and hope for living a life that is engaged and purposeful in your own defined way.
Empathy, Advocacy and the Otherside.
Empathy towards the cause you are drawn to naturally evokes a deeper sense of belonging and understanding for things outside of oneself. Another way to explore empathy, advocacy and mental health is leaning into the challenging thoughts associated with the opposition of your cause. Many times it’s a fantastic way to learn about the other side. It’s a great way to train your empathy muscle.
The Importance of Advocacy (Kindness and Cause) for Mental Wellbeing.
Having an awareness of meaning in life and an advocacy is important to health, and that it becomes even more important as we get older, makes a lot of sense, right?
Standing for something adds a significant dimension to your mental wellbeing. We do have to search for it sometimes, but it is comforting when we can find purpose in our lives, and that will affect our mental health too.
In the end, at [my] core, I emphasize the power of kindness towards the cause, which improves my mental wellness by providing a voice for people, and beings that may not be able too. Offering courage to people learning to reclaim and learn their voice. It doesn’t need to be something huge like donating a million dollars to a cause or volunteer hundreds of hours “on the ground”, but rather daily habits like opening a door to look at what you stand for, acts of service for others, or having a conversation about your passions and thoughts. Make advocacy a regular, conscious practice for your mental well being.
Dr. Ryan Westrum PhD, LMFT is an advocate for mental wellbeing and his client’s health. To contact him about the services he provides reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to his website to schedule a complementary consultation at healingsoulsllc.com