|Posted on July 12, 2018 at 1:15 AM|
I would like to take this opportunity to offer some helpful insight about my efforts to advocate for mental health awareness. An advocacy which I have no training for and no direct help with developing the skills I am using to accomplish it. By sharing a detailed look at my advocacy, I hope this will provide a better understanding of how and why I advocate as I do for those interested to know more. In fact, someone who had seen one of my recent social media comments promoting my website had chosen to reach out to me. The admiration for my attention to respect this individual has expressed, and the respectful way they have treated me is what brought me back to writing so soon. Thank You for your part to inspire me and for your passion with this cause. I hope what I share here can also help people recognize the importance of treating people with proper respect rather than bullying them because they are or feel different.
Who can be an advocate for mental health awareness?
Simple; a hero can be anyone, as is stated by actor Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan's film, The Dark Knight Rises. "Even a (man) doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young (boy's) shoulders to let him know that the world hadn't ended". This is why the character of Bruce Wayne, as Batman, is my favorite of all-time. I have attended no classes, although there may be a class out there in which certain guidelines or skills are taught. I've had no mentor. Or, to put it a better way, I have had no specific single mentor for guidance with this advocacy. I don't have the best inter-personal social skills either. Most people can accomplish what I have done, and more, with the talents you already have or skills you can strive to learn. I simply believe in myself and have confidence that I can and should work to achieve greater mental health awareness.
How can someone advocate, whether they have a mental health condition or not?
Advocating can be achieved through writing or speaking in some public manner for defending or to support positive mental health awareness. A certain level of responsibility is required for how and to whom you express yourself, as well as being prepared to face challenges such as stigma from members of your community or discrimination by potential employers. However, with relatively little experience virtually anyone can advocate in some form for a wide range of mental health issues and various diagnoses. Through my efforts, I have come to recognize at least three methods to advocate where the level of commitment, and public interaction, does vary to allow an approach that will feel most comfortable to consider.
The first method, in which I began my advocacy, was by writing at length about relevant topics and mindfully sharing my personal experiences with mental illness. This can generate productive discussions all across society where mental health is a major issue, but without direct interaction with people. In order for my content to be read and shared by others I made use of this (free) publicly accessible website to publish my blog writing. As a result, anyone from members of my own community to people across the world are able to read and discuss what I share. Another form of writing can also be through magazine publications. Thanks to information provided by the keynote speaker from last year's local NAMI Recovery Conference I was offered an opportunity to write for "People First", a statewide mental health publication. However, due to a long delay for the State budget to get passed, this opportunity has yet to materialize.
At least for the foreseeable future I do intend to write and continue posting blog entries.
The second method I accomplish advocating for mental health awareness has been to volunteer in my community. This involves as minimal or as much interaction with community members as you feel comfortable and typically takes place just within the county where you live. Volunteering can serve as a way to visibly show and proactively offer your support while allowing you to explore more ambitious opportunities for advocating. During the last two years, I have interacted with a number of community leaders such as our distinguished former County Commissioner who has seen my prior volunteer work firsthand, numerous members of the general public, as well as direct involvement with volunteers from local branches of two non-profit organizations (NAMI, AFSP). I have attended or participated in exceptional annual events and have met some of the most wonderful and dedicated people thanks to my community service volunteer work.
Despite my ongoing mental health treatment and career planning, I hope to continue volunteering in some way for years to come.
The third method I am pursuing to advocate directly for mental health awareness is to explore opportunities offered by these non-profit organizations. This requires being comfortable with and prepared to engage in the most public method of advocating. Founded in 1979, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the ideal source for a wide range of mental health awareness information and advocating efforts. As a member of NAMI, through my local affiliate office, I have been able to actively participate in this County's annual Recovery Conference and to explore opportunities for advancing my advocacy ambitions. Depending on what your nearest affiliate office has available, NAMI offers a unique range of both educational programs and innovative mental health trainings. These help to strengthen awareness as well as empowering community members with the experience gained to better serve mental health needs in their communities.
Founded in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is the single best outlet for suicide awareness and prevention efforts as well as having a wealth of very important information on suicide-relevant issues. Through my local Suicide Prevention Task Force (SPTF), and in past years as a community volunteer, I have been able to attend several AFSP-sponsored Out Of The Darkness Walks for suicide prevention. As a result of having endured suicide loss of a former Junior High classmate, and from experiencing this personally as a suicide attempt survivor myself, I have found these Walks to be an incredibly profound event for emotional healing. It is specifically with suicide that I hope someday to make a powerful and positive impact for helping to put an end to so many needless losses of beloved human life.
Currently, I am trained as a co-presenter for NAMI's own specialized "In Our Own Voice" program, in which capable people with mental health conditions can give truly empowering presentations to a variety of public venues and audiences. Thanks to an opportunity provided by a regional mental health expert, I also currently have QPR Gatekeeper suicide prevention training. QPR, which stands for Question Persuade Refer, allows capable members of the public and mental health professionals to be trained as "gatekeepers" who are better prepared to recognize warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to respond. Thanks as well for the generosity and fairness of the local NAMI affiliate's Board President, I have also had the opportunity to give what was my first-ever presentation about my mental health at last year's annual May Is Mental Health Month Conference.
Although I am exploring registering for my own vendor table at local events, and to give additional self-written public presentations, I cannot say for sure yet whether I will be able to accomplish these ambitions in my community. Thus far, I have encountered apprehension and possibly even stigma that is likely because I am an outspoken advocate or from being a suicide attempt survivor as well. Despite such potential setbacks, I want to encourage everyone to pursue similar advocacy goals wherever or with whomever you may volunteer. As one respectful mental health professional and keynote speaker inspired me to do, someday I hope to give a rousing presentation about my mental health on the steps of the State's Capitol building. Make your dedication known and your voice heard! Your efforts will ultimately benefit anyone who stands to gain from improving social wellness and mental health.
Where these trainings, presentations, and any future ambitions will lead me for making the passionate difference I aspire towards with mental health awareness should prove to be a fascinating journey indeed.
Why did I decide to advocate for mental health in the first place?
The simplest answer is because of my personality type. During my first attendance at Penn State University Altoona College, seventeen years ago, I happened to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator assessment. Although back then I tested as the rather uncommon ENFJ ("The Protagonist"), last year a best friend reminded me about the assessment so I tried it again. This time, I happened to test as a different personality type. I had gone from the extroverted protagonist to the rarest personality type INFJ ("The Advocate"), which instead is introverted. In fact, I retook the assessment just to be sure the Advocate result was accurate and I got the same result then too; a fitting feather in my cap because I was already advocating when I took the assessment again.
Another influence with why I decided to advocate for mental health awareness is due to the fact that I am a very compassionate person. There are two reasons for this. The second is I have become this considerate of others from my prolonged experiences with depression. As a result, I have a heightened sense of empathy which allows me to easily identify with someone else who experiences emotional hardship. Understanding the difficulty of living with feelings like hopelessness, sorrow, fear, or rejection is a trademark of many people who live with mental illness. When I say I know what this is like I am expressing empathy towards others. On the other hand, before the onset of my first anxiety symptoms (between ages 12 and 13), I was actually developing a likeness for compassionate behavior then too which would be even more beneficial for my advocacy. This is the first reason.
By the time I was in Elementary School (4th-6th grades) I was already well on my way to becoming a caring type of person. My evidence for this is I wrote thank you cards to my elder relatives with such a genuine attention to thoughtfulness that I received considerable praise. Praise I liked. My paternal Grandmother always used to tell me, "God bless ya, Jimmy", and I can remember exactly how she used to say it too. I even used to consider writing for Hallmark greeting cards someday. Although I was bullied during Elementary School, I hadn't really felt as socially isolated or rejected as I did after attending Junior High. Sure I ended up going through a full range of anxiety and depression experiences until my overdose attempt at age 21. But my compassionate sensibility was already a permanent part of me by then and to now. So, I can identify with emotional hardship and care about how it makes people feel.
July 13th, 2018: