When it comes to mental health conditions and disabilities self-advocacy is essential. Though not everyone will reach a point where they feel safe telling the world their story, it is crucial for everyone to be able to demand quality care and accommodations.
Last year I had the honor of presenting at a conference for a group of young adult leaders for disability rights and empowerment. These young people were between the ages of fifteen and twenty and came together to talk about their experiences as youth with disabilities. They talked about the importance of speaking up for yourself and/or advocating for your needs. Here is a list of the things they found important when it came to self-advocacy:
- Be honest with your doctors, therapists and care team. Tell them if you feel uncomfortable or unhappy with your medication or treatment and see if there are other options that are more in line with your wants and needs. Add your voice into the mix and listen if professionals have a different perspective because they might have good ideas too.
- Be honest with your teachers and/or coworkers. You may not need to tell them what your diagnosis is (though with teachers this may be necessary), but do tell them that you have a disability or condition that needs certain accommodations if you feel it could make your life easier. Speak up for your needs even if it may seem embarrassing or scary because in the long run you may learn better or get more accomplished.
- After you have tried these see how you feel about advocating for yourself and see if you feel ready to take it a step higher and share your story. Provide more detail and talk about your personal experience with people when these issues come up. This will allow others to better understand the illness and who you are as a person. Many times this can even create an ally that will do anything to help you if you need it. You can practice this with friends and family.
- When it comes to stigma or bullying: Situations where there is discrimination and/or judgment are often the most important place for people to hear a personal story. Many times bullies or others may not understand what you are really going through. Judge the situation and if you think it is worth it speak up. Tell them why their words hurt and what you are really experiencing. Tell them what is really going on instead of letting them continue to spread the misinformation. This one is tricky of course, so always judge safety first. If you feel you are being bullied or harassed talk to a teacher, parent or other safe adult.
Listening to these pointers impressed and inspired me and I hope that you can take something away too. It is also important to know that because of your ability to advocate for yourself you are inspiring and helping others to do the same. You may even start a small movement!