Your struggle with mental health issues or addiction may seem like a battle you’re fighting on your own. It can be isolating, but the truth is, there are many traveling down the road you are on and many more have gone before you.
Everyone’s story of mental health, substance abuse and recovery is unique. While the problem is not unique, your journey is unlike anyone else’s, and the story of that journey has great value, and great power.
Your Story Matters
We’ve made great strides over the last several years in the fight against stigma toward people who struggle with mental illness and addiction. A culture of silence and fear has slowly given way to one of speaking out and giving support, but we still have a long way to go.
One of the best ways to help break the stigma is to help break the silence. When you open up about your life, your struggles, your victories, your reality, you allow others to see the truth about mental illness and addiction. You also open the door for others who are struggling to be open and honest about their own problems.
It may be your story that encourages someone to finally speak up about their struggles and get the help they need. Or perhaps it will correct someone’s inaccurate view of mental illness or addiction, allowing them to be more understanding and compassionate toward others. Or maybe you are the one who will benefit most from telling your story, being honest with your loved ones about your journey.
Another aspect of being open and honest about your story of mental illness or addiction is self-advocacy. If you’ve battled mental illness and addiction your whole life, you may struggle with self-esteem and lack the ability to make decisions for yourself. You may have trouble recognizing that you matter.
Maybe you’ve become dependent on others for many of your needs, and therefore feel like you don’t have control over your life. By learning to be honest with others about your needs, and taking responsibility for fulfilling them, you can become your own greatest advocate and take that control back.
So how can you best advocate for yourself? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines self-advocacy as taking personal responsibility for your own life, putting yourself back in charge and insisting that others respect your rights and treat you well.
The first step is to believe in yourself and know your worth. Take stock of your self-esteem, and find ways to raise it. Then decide what you want or what needs to change — your job, your living situation, the way people treat you — and create a concrete plan to make that change happen. Talk to people who can help you get what you want, and have loved ones help where needed. Developing a strategy for how you will achieve your goals and enlisting support along the way will make you more likely to see results.
Be willing to speak directly to people and tell them what you want. If you’ve prepared yourself beforehand and armed yourself with knowledge, you’re more likely to be able to adequately explain your goal and the specific help you need from the person you’re talking to.
This will take practice, and it may feel strange or even pushy. But as you continue to gain self-esteem and see success in your efforts, you’ll realize how valuable self-advocacy is in your journey to regaining your sense of self-worth. You will also help others see beyond your mental health struggles and recognize your value as a person.
Other Ways to Break the Stigma
Misconceptions about mental health disorders and addiction won’t be cleared up overnight, but here are ways you can help make a difference:
- Listen to others who are struggling with mental illness and substance abuse
- Educate yourself on various topics relating to mental health and addiction
- Support organizations and groups in your area that offer health awareness resources and treatment
- Partner with an organization to host an event or host gatherings at your house to allow people to connect
- Look for health awareness events in your area to participate in
Community gatherings and events offer support and education while fostering connection between people struggling with mental illness and addiction, and they are often catalysts for change in the way people think about and treat these issues.
As greater awareness is raised in your community, people will be more compassionate toward and understanding of those who battle substance abuse and mental health issues. And as your community becomes a more welcoming place for those who are struggling, people will recognize their worth and realize that help and support are available to them. In a word, they will be given hope.
By Wesley Gallagher
A writer for Heroes in Recovery
Heroes in Recovery has a simple mission: to eliminate the social stigma that keeps individuals with addiction and mental health issues from seeking help, to share stories of recovery for the purpose of encouragement and inspiration, and to create an engaged sober community that empowers people to get involved, give back, and live healthy, active lives.