Mental health issues take many forms and have dramatically different levels of severity.
For some reflection techniques and a reliable support circle is sufficient to get through those difficult days.
For others on going treatment, support and even medication is required.
Whatever the condition and whatever the level of support, it’s important for the individual to be able to make their feelings known and for the appropriate action taken that reflects their outcomes and goals.
Many individuals with mental health issues are able to advocate for themselves and need only marginally more support than anyone else but others may need an advocate.
Others need someone to speak for them or act as a supportive presence in order for the individual’s thoughts, needs or rights to be adequately represented.
What is an Advocate?
An advocate in its simplest terms is some who will promote your interests. We have advocates in all parts of life: solicitors advocate for us on legal matters. Our GP will advocate on our behalf to a surgeon. Or a social worker could advocate on our behalf in order to access needed services.
Essentially, their role is to speak for you on matters that you may not be able to speak about yourself – either because they have expert knowledge or because you would rather they speak on your behalf.
What Should an Advocate Do?
If it has been established that an advocate is required and you have been asked to perform that role it is important to establish the scope of your authority and responsibilities.
1. You are their voice
It is your job to give you friend, colleague or family member you full throated support. You don’t have to agree with them but you do have to respect their objectives and desired outcomes.
If you feel that your personal views would interfere then be honest and suggest the individual finds someone else.
2. Understand the individual’s objectives
Go through the individual’s objectives carefully to fully understand each one. Write them all down so you can make sure that everything is covered regardless of what capacity you advocacy takes.
Your job isn’t to be belligerent or obstinate but make sure that the individual’s objectives are met as fully and as reasonable as possible.
3. Be Constructive
Where possible your role should to communicate the views of the person you’re supporting without being combative or needlessly obstructive.
Advocacy is about reaching a positive outcome that meets – as closely as possible – the objectives of the individual.
Providing all parties have that same outcome in mind it should be easy enough to keep the conversation both constructive and positive.
In which case your role may be limited to reminding the person you’re supporting of a couple of talking points and nothing more.
4. Consider the Individual’s Feelings
In a lot of cases your role of advocate will be whilst the person you are supporting is in the room with you. As such it is important to consider their feelings, especially if there is potential for disagreements between the parties present.
Challenge where necessary and make sure there is a provision for breaks as needed in order for the individual to get some room to breathe.
5. Remember Your Remit
It is not your place to agree to anything beyond what you and the person you are supporting has already discussed – assuming they aren’t in the room for you.
Nor should you push the individual into making an instant decision or a decision that they don’t necessarily agree with.
As long as you keep referring back to points 1-4 you should be fine.
When is an Advocate Necessary?
There is no clear cut answer to this so in short – whenever the individual feels they need one to help them talk about the things that matter most to them and/or talking about the specific challenges they are working to overcome.
It could be from anything to a employer/employee meeting where their specific challenges or needs are being discussed.
Or it could be during an assessment regarding their mental health and they are concerned that all the relevant information is either communicated or remembered by them.
Providing the other party knows that you will be present and the role you are carrying out then there should be no issue with you being there. Although don’t be surprised if you’re required to sign confidentiality agreements.
There are also a number of professional advocacy agencies that support people with specific issues, in Dorset for example there is ‘Dorset Advocacy’ a not for profit organisation that supports a range of people with a variety of issues.
Encompass Dorset work with individuals with enduring mental health issues in both a residential setting or in their own homes.