I'm the girl who often struggles to get out of bed, even in nice weather. I'm the girl for whom criticism strikes dangerously deep. I'm the girl who calls for help from others, desperately seeking their approval while cutting them down. I'm one of the weakest among us and yet more and more, I'm placing myself on the front of a mental health movement, fighting relentlessly against stigma.
People tend to assume a lot of things about mental health advocates. Which sort of makes sense given the climate for mental health discussions in general. It all seems to be based primarily on assumptions and judgement. We must continue to work to change the conversation around mental health issues to be more accepting, based on individual experience as opposed to generalizations. Part of that process is recognizing some common assumptions made about mental health advocates.
1. We're crazy
I've seen a lot of people who would make great advocates shy away from it because they're afraid of being labeled as "crazy" themselves. It's a big role to take on, being a point person for a topic that has been so stigmatized in society. And furthermore, it's difficult to detach our own personal identities from our work. There are many people who advocate publicly for mental health that do have personal experience with mental illness. There are also many people who don't and simply realize that the cause is universal and worth promoting. You can't make assumptions about people's identities through their work. Mental health advocates have several potential motives for choosing the work they do, none of which you will know unless you ask.
2. We're your personal saviors
Somehow taking on work as a mental health advocate causes some people to assume that you're the number one crisis responder for your social network. Actually, being a mental health advocate is a profession like unto any other. You have your work and you have your life. You choose exactly how much you want to intersect them. If you feel like you can take elements from your work and apply them to situations in your personal life, power to you. However, don't let anyone use your identity as a mental health advocate to guilt you past boundaries you're comfortable with. You should be prioritizing your own mental health first and foremost and encouraging others to do the same. Don't let anyone translate your work choices into expectations that suit their benefits. It's foul play, unfair and misplaced.
3. We're selfless people
I don't know about you, but I'm pretty selfish. As much as I sympathize with the cause of promoting mental health, I also think AK Kerani's business model is fantastic and has the potential of making a lot of money. Social change doesn't always come at a cost. Many social change endeavors are at the forefront of tech innovation. In the early stages of AK Kerani, I have and will continue to rely on my friends and family for support both personally and business-wise in making this happen. Mental health advocacy is a business like any other and requires a lot of pragmatic thinking and external support. I would say I definitely rely on others more than they rely on me.
As these are drawn primarily from my personal experience, I expect people to disagree. This is mainly a way of getting the conversation going and also making it clear that mental health advocates are NOT responsible for saving the world. We're just people who are slightly more passionate about the cause than the average person, enough to devote time and energy to promoting it. This interest does not make us responsible for other people's problems any more than we want to be. And our professional choices this way should not allow anyone to make judgements that start with: "If you're a mental health advocate, you should be way more......." As much as I expect statements like that to come my way, either aggressively or passive aggressively, I've learned to prioritize my own mental health first and disengage.
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