Mental health advocacy is 1) a misnomer, since most “mental health” advocacy is really about and performed on behalf of those of us with mental illness, and 2) Big Business, just like any other, funded by Big Pharma and both the federal and state government.
These days, what with mass shootings, subway pushings, the NRA ‘s wet dream about a mental illness registry and such, Mental Health Advocacy is even BIGGER BUSINESS.
And, because it is Big Business with a capital B — or rather two capital Bs — the space is owned not by those of us who struggle with mental illness, but those benevolent souls who want to help us. There are various nonprofit and for-profit organizations dedicated solely to research about mental illness, to advocacy for mentally ill people and our families, and other groups and people, so-called mental health advocates, who, well, advocate on our behalf. I suppose this is a good thing, but for the most part those of us with mental illnesses don’t have a large part in what these organizations or people do or say. We are sometimes used as poster people: lookit here, this person with schizophrenia is a big-shot corporate CEO, lookit here, this bipolar person is an acclaimed actor, lookit here, this newscaster has depression — how wonderful!!! We also sit on Boards of Directors, because we have insider’s knowledge and mostly because BoD membership is unpaid, we’re free labor. In fact these are positions where one has to give or find money for an organization. Crazy folks are great to have on Boards of Directors, not pretty to work in the actual organizations at all or anything but at the lowest level.
Most of us don’t become poster people (and probably don’t want to) because we aren’t cute, we’re messy; we’re not sexy, we’re catatonic; we’re not fun, we’re depressed; and mostly, we are critical. We have critiques of the healthcare systems (plural), the economy, the government, the workplace, medication, therapy, and other areas of life that affect us and that we affect by our very existence. Our critiques are good and necessary and usually right-on. But, that also keep us out of the realm of the professional mental health advocacy game.
I’ve been seeking a job in public health for over two years. Almost no one from the big, national organizations will talk to me. And smaller orgs are scared shitless of losing their federal and state funding, and money that flows to them from Big Pharma that having someone like me on staff might lead to. Someone openly mentally ill, critical of the US healthcare systems, the federal (and state) government, as well as Big Pharma. We cannot have anyone criticize our funders, oh my.
SO, I don’t get a job with any of these organizations, many of which I am eminently qualified for both professionally and personally. That very powerful combination should make me a shoe-in for quite a few of the jobs I’ve applied for over the past two years. But, no, I have a big mouth, I talk and write a lot, I come out, publicly, as mental ill, I have a book, I have this blog, I have a brain, and as disordered as it sometime is it still give me and those who read my stuff and listen to me speak, a socio-political analysis of mental illness. I’m not stupid just because I have a mental illness!
Mental illness, not mental health. Notice the difference? I’m a mental illness awareness activist, not a mental health advocate. Two different things. The way people use words is interesting, mental health advocacy is, to me, doublespeak. It magically (and medically) changes illness into health when it’s really still illness.
Of course we all want mental “health,” but what is that, who pays for it, and who gets paid to perform it?