As a mental health advocate, the most effective tool in your toolbox is your voice. Therefore, what do you do if you find yourself doubting your voice, and more importantly, its purpose? This is a question I’ve been batting around my social consciousness for a while now. And a question that has left me feeling lost as to which direction my work in mental health should be taking.
Like many fellow advocates before me, I’ve found myself struggling with the idea my voice will never have the impact I want it to have on the people who matter most to me: the people living with a maternal mental health illness. And instead, I’ve started resigning myself to leave this important work to the more qualified professionals and larger mental health organizations. Their voices of authority are the ones that command the most influential people to listen, and therefore, are more capable of making the most change.
These were the thoughts I took with me as I attended the Mental Health Forum 2019 at The World Health Organization (WHO). Along with the thoughts that, yes, I would leave inspired by the people I’d meet and the initiatives I’d learn about, I would prove right that my individual voice was not big enough to make a difference in the huge global choir of mental health voices. And that, while my work to date has done some good, it would never be anywhere near as impactful as a global organization and the brilliant minds associated with it.
However, I soon came to realize this could not have been further from the truth.
The two-day Mental Health Forum brought together leaders from the world of global mental health. The topics were diverse, offering an insightful and engaging agenda, delivered by truly talented and passionate professionals from the mental health community. Throughout the variety of event discussions, there was one theme that ran throughout. One message that came across loud and clear: the importance and power of the individual voice.
As I sat through each session, it quickly became apparent the importance WHO and its global partners place on the power of the individual voice. They made it clear that as vitally important as it is to have support from the top-down for mental health services (from governments, education and funding), that without the voices from the grassroot organizations, community champions and individual mental health advocates, WHO’s global mental health goals would not be possible.
I came away from the forum re-empowered thanks to the important reminder that our individual voices as mental health advocates and peers with lived experience are essential in delivering an authentic and lasting change to mental health services, at both local and global levels.
Mental health advocacy can at times be a solitary place, especially when working independent of a large organization. Therefore, it is dangerously easy to forget the power your voice has and the importance of sharing it to make a difference on a subject matter you are passionate about. Therefore, if you are finding your advocacy voice is a bit quiet as of late, I have a message for you: speak up! We all want to hear what you have to say!