Advocacy in the Face of Stigma

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Standing up for a disadvantaged or oppressed group takes great personal strength, and can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. This week I am pleased to be joined by Felicia Johnson, Mental Health Advocate and Author of Her the Book, a novel which explores the real-life complexities of struggling with mental illness and what it means to be a survivor. This type of advocacy (or any type, really) is stressful and can take a toll on a person, but it also can pay off in a big way. Today’s post offers some tips for staying motivated and achieving your goals as an advocate for a cause.

#1: See yourself as an educator, rather than a lobbyist.

There’s a huge difference between advocating for a cause that benefits the community, and lobbying for a personal or private interest. If more support for your cause would truly have a positive impact on the community and you have facts to back that up, then your job isn’t to convince people, your job is to teach them. While arguing with people and trying to persuade them to take action can be exhausting and lead to both parties talking in circles about their opinions, facts are much harder to argue with and are also more meaningful. On top of that, seeing yourself as an educator will make you feel better about the work you are doing.

#2: When you encounter stigma or negativity, focus on building an understanding rather than winning an argument.

It’s human nature to fear what you don’t understand. If someone is being mean or negative, instead of getting angry, focus on helping them better understand the issue. Similarly, if you feel angry of upset when you don’t understand someone, try asking them questions. Felicia gives an example: when someone around her perpetuates a stigma, for instance if they accuse someone who needs help of being “crazy” or “oversensitive,” she will simply ask them “why?” Sometimes all people need is to hear themselves speak their reasons out loud to understand their own motivations better, and you might discover that their own personal struggles are shaping their perception.

#3: Be prepared to leave your comfort zone.

You can’t set out to be an advocate and expect that it is going to be easy – advocating for other people and even advocating for yourself means putting yourself out there and being ready for whatever comes your way. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up to a wider audience – you can’t expect that everyone is going to believe in your message, but understand the value of having your voice heard. For example, Felicia doesn’t see herself as a “Twitter person” and wouldn’t use the site in her personal life, but she understands that it is a valuable tool for reaching more people. Although not all of the messages she’s received on the site have been friendly, the positive responses made the negative ones worth enduring.

#4: Be patient with yourself.

We are always hardest on ourselves, and it’s easy to feel let down when change doesn’t happen at the pace we had hoped or expected. If you only reached 9,000 people and your goal was 10,000, that is not a failure – you still achieved something meaningful, and that is something you can build on in the future. If you feel like you lost an argument with someone, that doesn’t mean they had more facts than you – they may have just used better debate tactics. Accept the fact that learning new skills,  building your own confidence, and educating other people all take time. Encountering setbacks is part of the journey – it is not always a reflection on you and it’s never a reason to give up hope.

#5: Take some time to focus on what makes you feel good.

To keep your energy level up, you will need some time to decompress. Don’t forget to set aside time to do whatever helps you re-energize. For a lot of people, this means relaxing and sharing your feelings with a close friend (sometimes also known as “venting”), or you may just need to get away from people for a while and spend some quality time with nature or read a book.

#6: Let yourself be inspired by the work that you and those around you are doing.

Felicia shared that for her, the most uplifting thing is when someone reaches out to her and says that her work has changed their life – whether that means that it helped them get through a painful time, or if it helped them to better understand and support a loved one. This shows that advocacy doesn’t always mean changing the whole world – take comfort in the impact you’ve had, even if it is just one person.

If you need more inspiration, check out my Inspiration & Motivation section, or for more advice on how to be a better activist, check out my Advice & Tips. If you’d like more information about Felicia’s work as an author and advocate, go to her website or check out her book. As always, thanks for reading!

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One thought on “Advocacy in the Face of Stigma

  1. Very encouraging article. It is challenging to be an advocate when it seems like so many others are fighting to be heard but most don’t seem to want to listen. “HER” by Felicia Johnson is a great book! Sheds major light on the topic of mental illness that people need to talk about more.

    Liked by 2 people

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