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3 Ways Being My Own Advocate Has Helped My Mental Health Recovery

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I live with bipolar I disorder and I have faced a variety of mental health settings from inpatient hospitalizations, private mental health clinics, campus counseling and psychiatry clinics, to public community mental health clinics. What I’ve learned in all of those settings is that no matter where I fall on the mood spectrum in a given moment, I always need to advocate for myself. There are three main reasons I feel like this is important for me and my mental health:

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1. Advocating helps protect my rights in treatment.

Every time I enter the hospital or start therapy at a new location, I am given a booklet or handout of my rights. I have learned not to shove that into a drawer until after I have read it now. I have been in situations where my rights to privacy had been violated for instance, and without knowing what I could do about it, that would have been a terrifying experience. Being an educated consumer gives me a feeling of safety and agency in a sometimes scary system. 

2. Advocating helps me have good relationships with my providers.

Sometimes this takes the form of openness and honesty with providers about things I am uncomfortable with. Sometimes this means terminating relationships with kind people who aren’t getting me to the place I need to be in terms if my mental health. Keeping the lines of communication open in any case helps keep the conversations going for me and helps my providers know what isn’t working and what is so they can better help me navigate a path to recovery.

3. Advocating for myself allows me to have a say in the care I receive.

When I first started in the mental health care system, things were so overwhelming I didn’t really understand the concept of “person centered planning” (the idea that treatment should be centered around a person’s preferences, choices and abilities), so I didn’t know I could have a voice in the process. I just thought my providers decided what was best for me. Advocating means I am now engaged in the process of determining the direction and desired outcomes for my treatment. I actively research medications and side effects and ask multiple questions at psychiatry appointments. I sometimes challenge my case manager’s thoughts on directions she thinks I should be going in and we talk about why we have a difference of opinion. I am not afraid to question a therapist about a style or method when it feels uncomfortable. 

Learning to become my own advocate was challenging and emotionally risky at times, but ultimately incredibly worth it. I gained confidence and a sense of power over my own destiny in the process. It didn’t happen overnight, and I am still a work in progress, but I am healthier due to advocating for myself in what can seem like an overwhelming system.

Thinkstock photo via YakobchukOlena.

Originally published: August 30, 2017
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