May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Month – an opportunity to acknowledge and understand that 1 in 5 people have mental health issues and everyday more than 20 Veterans die by suicide because get or work accept necessary treatment. Everyone from any background, of any socio-economic status can be impacted by mental illness. 

About 37-years ago my life was a shambles, I had an undiagnosed mental illness.  It was hard for me to see that I had a future or to see anything positive before me on my Radiant Journey to Wellness. With the help of a very supportive husband, an insightful mental health team and an interesting cycle of psychotropic medications, I became stable and then I became well. I have a 30+year career in Health & Social Services. After receiving a degree in Human Service and a Bachelors & Masters Degree in Theology with an emphasis in Counseling. As I began my studies of how people get well and stay well, it became clear to me that I needed to stop depending on others to advocate for me and that I needed to “step up to the plate” and advocate for myself! It took time, persistence and practice to become a strong advocate for myself.  But with some guidance and support from many caring, supportive people I have moved forward on my journey to become who I am destined to be. Now, I am versed enough hat I may share this information with you!

Perhaps if designer Kate Spade, chef Anthony Bourdain and musician Naomi Judd had, had more appropriate personal support, received more appropriate mental health and self-advocacy training and understood more about their own need for treatment they might have been able to ask for help when they felt suicidal and they would not have completed their suicides, leaving their young children without a parent, their siblings aching and their public confused. Self-advocacy helps people reach out to combat stigma from without, and within, and it can save lives!

Sometimes when people have difficult life issues, they forget (or perhaps they never learned) how to advocate for themselves. Others have found that the ability to advocate for oneself is necessary on their personal journey. When a person feels they have lost control over their life, their rights, or their responsibilities, and that they have lost the ability and right to effectively advocate for themselves, they may lose hope. They may have low self-esteem. Regaining their sense of control by successfully advocating for themselves will give them back the hope and self-esteem they need to work toward their Radiant Journey to Wellness.

Ten Steps to Gain Self-Advocacy

  1. Believe in Yourself
  2. Know Your Rights
  3. Decide What You Want
  4. Get the Facts
  5. Plan a Strategy
  6. Gather Support
  7. Express Yourself Clearly
  8. Assert Yourself Appropriately
  9. Be Firm and Persistent
  10. Ask for Help

If there a threat of harm or imminent risk, call: 911

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 (800) 273-8255

Radiant Journey to Wellness: 1 (707) 366-5645

If you find yourself in the position to support someone who is suicidal or loosing hope, help them understand that speaking to someone in person is the most effective way to advocate for themselves. Remind them to make a point to be kind and gentle. It is helpful to plan what you are going to say and have specific points they want to make. It may also be helpful to practice with the help of friends, a provider or in your mirror if they feel unsure of what they might say.

When supporting people as they step out of hopelessness and gain the courage for self-advocacy, you may guide them with simple tips to move forward on their journey: 

  1. Share the importance of dressing appropriately for their appointments 
  2. Help them understand the importance of being on time
  3. Remembering to bathe or shower and put on deodorant are very important attributes which some individuals need support in understanding or completing
  4. Showing someone how to look another person in the eye and shaking hands firmly or maybe a fist bum or elbow bump when greeting someone, unless your culture or religion has different courtesies
  5. Calling a person by their name and knowing that it is OK to ask them their name if you don’t remember it, or don’t know how to pronounce it, are also good self-advocacy skills 
  6. Using positive body language is an important part of self-advocacy . . . Sometimes what we DO, more impactful as the words we say.
  7. It is important for people to understand that how you say something often makes a greater impression than what you say. Helping people learn to state your message clearly and simply without raising your voice or using curse words, can improve self-advocacy skills. 
  8. Helping someone understand how to tell the other person (often a provider or authority figure) exactly what they want – what they need; calmly explaining why they need it. 
  9. Offer support so the individual needing support, that when they meet with their provider or team why it is in their best interest to respond to their request for information – even if seems uncomfortable or embarrassing. 
  10. Help the person you are supporting to be able to speak loud enough to be heard without shouting is an important self-advocacy skill, and to try not mumble. If English is their second or they use sign-language, they have a right to a qualified interpreter – not a family member or friend.
  11. Learning how to listen to what the other person is saying (with you and with a provider) and to ask questions for anything you don’t understand, is incredibly important. 
  12. At the end of any meeting, restate any action-items that have been decided upon so that everyone understands each action clearly. For instance, you might say, “As a result of this meeting you are going to order a thyroid test for me, and I am going to come back in two-weeks for a follow-up appointment to receive the test results.” Thank all the people at the meeting for their time and assistance.
  13. Sending a follow-up e-mail or voice mail thanking all the people for meeting with you and summarizing any agreed-upon actions. It is a nice gesture; and it acts as a reminder and provides assurance that everyone has the same understanding about the result of the meeting and the action-plan.

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