There is no doubt that mental health activism positively impacts those with diagnoses, but you may be surprised to learn that doing activism can improve your own physical and mental health. So why not do both—help others and yourself?
When people think about activism, they often get stuck on stereotypes of protesting or calling elected representatives. Those types of activism are important, of course. But they may not be right for everyone.
You can do the type of activism you love for a cause that truly needs you.
The Benefits of Mental Health Activism
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our mental health care system was in crisis. And since the pandemic, it has only gotten worse. Just read the statistics:
- More people need help with anxiety and depression. Anxiety is up 93%, and depression is up 62%.
- Our youth are in crisis. Almost 10% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in 2019.
- Suicidal ideation is increasing. Nearly 5% of adults in the U.S. are experiencing serious thoughts of suicide.
The Benefits of Being a Mental Health Activist
Whether you are a family member or caregiver of someone with a mental health disorder or have the lived experience yourself, being an activist can positively affect your physical and mental health. In addition, you will gain a sense of purpose by working on behalf of others. The positive benefits of being of service are supported by research.
Reduce your Stress
Activism helps counteract the effects of stress, anger, and anxiety. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person and a sense of doing good for someone else.
Helping others makes you happy. Really. Researchers measured hormone levels of those who volunteered. These folks have increased dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, the happy hormones. The more satisfaction volunteers got from their work, the happier they felt.
Enhance Your Self-Confidence
Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you will have a favorable view of your life and future. A sense of accomplishment raises self-esteem and self-confidence.
Give Your Life Meaning
Activists can find new meaning and direction in their lives by helping others. Whatever your life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your worries. Even better, it will keep you mentally stimulated and add more value to your life.
Improve Your Physical Health
By interacting with others, going out to do your activism work, and being mobile, you can better manage your weight, physical pain associated with inactivity, and mental acuity (e.g., memory, focus, and reasoning).
Benefits for Those with Mental Health Disorders
Those with mental health disorders gain the same benefits from volunteering as anyone else. Many adults with the lived experience of mental illness attend a peer support group for fellowship. But here’s an angle you might not have considered.
While men and women come to mental health peer support groups for comfort and advice, they are often surprised to find a sense of worth by becoming a mentor to others. This may be a feeling they experience for the first time. A person’s lived experience, which might have only been a burden thus far, transforms into lessons of hope and accomplishment. Peers who have been ostracized, isolated, and struggling for years are suddenly viewed as warriors—respected and emulated in their fight for a better life.
No longer dismissed, support group mentors are saluted by their peers and leave at the end of meetings with a sense of value and worth they might be unaccustomed to. Often, mentors achieve confidence and a sense of value through the support and hope they offer others.
Why Activists Quit
Mental health activism would appear to be a win-win proposition, with benefits for you and your cause. Yet, sadly, too many people who start volunteering don’t continue, with one-third quitting during the first year. If someone begins volunteering with all good intentions, what goes wrong?
There are several possible reasons. Sometimes people are unclear about what they want to do, and some organizations are not well-prepared for volunteers, so they put people to work without proper training. This leads to frustration on the part of the volunteers and the organization. Even if they can perform the work, it may be frustrating if they can’t tell if they are making a difference for the cause. And maybe they do not enjoy the work itself.
These pitfalls are not inevitable. With guidance, you can craft a volunteer opportunity that is ideal for you—a cause you are passionate about and using your skills, talents, and experiences on a schedule that works for you. When you create your own volunteer opportunity, your chances of success and happiness increase tenfold.
A 5-step Path to Your Perfect Opportunity
In 2018, psychologist and teacher Terri Lyon created a 5-Step Activism path for people new to making a difference. This easy-to-follow roadmap walks you through steps to find your perfect activism opportunity. The steps are:
- Find your passion by creating a vision of how you want to change the world
- Identify the unique gifts you can bring to this activism
- Craft a unique activism opportunity ideally suited to you
- Monitor your long-term effectiveness
- Stay motivated and avoid burnout
The success of Terri’s book What’s On Your Sign?, particularly as a classroom resource with its companion workbook, inspired her to create books that use her 5-step Activism Path approach for specific causes.
Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism
Terri’s friend and editor, Trish Lockard, is deeply involved with the Tennessee chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Terri and Trish decided to employ the unique 5-step Activism Path to a specific area of activism: mental health. The result? Their book Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism. The book helps readers recognize that they already possess the gifts needed to make a difference for those with mental health diagnoses and their families.
The book offers profiles of successful, creative mental health activists:
- A jewelry maker who creates custom designs based on customers’ stories of their lived experiences. She then donates the proceeds to mental health organizations.
- A comedian who uses her podcast platform to reach others living with mental illness.
- A courageous college student who offers peer support, reminding students that it is “It’s OK to not be OK.”
- A quilter who lost her daughter to suicide creates memorial quilts, with each square representing someone lost to suicide. The quilts are displayed in support of suicide awareness.
Mental Health Activism Benefits Everyone
Activism—if it’s the right match for you—brings joy and happiness into your life. And activism for mental health is a win-win: you gain greater happiness and improved mental health through your activism. At the same time, you will be making a difference for those with lived experience of mental health disorders and their loved ones.
Want to read Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism? Check out the link above!
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About the Authors
Trish Lockard served for years as the president of her local NAMI affiliate board, was the family and caregiver support group facilitator, and to this day, volunteers as a Family-to-Family certified instructor. Her passion for offering education and support for those with lived experience and their families hasn’t waned because the need hasn’t waned. Trish is a nonfiction book editor, specializing in memoir, and a nonfiction writing coach at Strike The Write Tone. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through her website Life At The Intersection, Terri Lyon spotlights the unique, creative, and sometimes surprising ways people make change happen through their activism. A licensed psychologist, her career experience includes government research, managing training at a Fortune 500 company, consulting, and almost 40 years teaching graduate students. She is the treasurer of a credit union and a professional arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau. Contact Terri at email@example.com.
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The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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