If you’re like me, you know how opening up about your mental health challenges isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright scary. I’m diagnosed with ADHD and just like anyone diagnosed with a mental health condition. I know what it feels like to feel terrified or hopeless because of how people react when you speak up about things related to your mental health.
People’s unhelpful and stigmatized views regarding therapy and medication make us feel untrue things, like we are overdramatic, weak, or that we’re a burden, thus making it even more difficult for us to speak about our mental health challenges. I know because I’ve experienced firsthand the feeling of shame and worthlessness this caused when I was diagnosed with ADHD.
I additionally understand how frustrating and difficult it is to get past those beliefs because we begin to believe those untrue things after a while. Dr. Vania Manipod claims a big reason why self-advocacy is so challenging is partially because of how we’re made to feel regarding things like stigma from others, self-stigma, and power imbalances.
Even in our healthcare system, there are stigmatized beliefs related to ADHD, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, making it even more challenging to gain our voice. That being said, it has gotten better the past few years, but the medical community still has a long way to go as far as I’m concerned.
For this reason, we must learn to communicate our wants, needs, and concerns related to our treatment and diagnosis, regardless of how challenging it is. The reason is that the better we’re able to communicate those things, the more accurately our medical provider can treat and diagnose us and the better we’ll understand ourselves.
So if you’re wondering how you can empower yourself and begin to advocate for your mental health, below are a few tips for doing just that I’ve found helpful in my journey.
1. A great way to start self-advocating is to write down any questions or concerns regarding certain aspects of your diagnosis you may have. Some examples of questions might be about your progress, treatment options, types of medications, or anything else related to your mental health and diagnoses. Such as questions related to your personal beliefs and concerns, fears, and hesitations.
When you take the time to do this with your healthcare provider, it can help them to empower you to gain a healthier perspective on things related to your diagnoses. I’ve started doing this the past few years, and it’s incredibly helpful; it’s equally important to have a medical or mental professional who takes your issues and diagnosis seriously.
2. Make sure you get your information from reliable sources instead of self-proclaimed experts or health gurus. The reason is mental illnesses and other psychological conditions are extremely complicated. Professionals know a lot more than your average person and have the resources and knowledge to empower you to focus on the things that build you up instead of tearing you down.
When you take advice from non-experts, friends, and family, even though they may have good intentions, they’re not as informed as professionals and may not have a total understanding.
3. When I was first diagnosed with ADHD, it took me a long time to accept I needed help and medication. But once I did accept help, my life gradually got better and better. For this reason, it’s important to remember there’s no shame in asking for help or taking medications for certain conditions.
For this reason, it’s critical to understand your belief system and self-talk when it relates to how you perceive mental health issues. Plus, remember, none of us knows everything and that’s fine, and being diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t necessarily make you an expert on your diagnosis. A fantastic way to do that is by getting your information from professionals.
You can also take free courses by organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Associations Recovery College. If you’re not Canadian, look for similar mental health organizations in your area or ask your healthcare provider if they know of any. Here is a list of the top 30 mental health organizations and charities with similar courses made by the site choosing therapy.
4. I’ve found things like journaling helpful for processing challenging thoughts and feelings, and yes, I know some people might be hesitant to start journaling. At first, I was hesitant when I started journaling, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s a great way to vent or organize your thoughts.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling is also a great tool for processing challenging thoughts and feelings. You can additionally check out these great journaling ideas from one of my favorite pages, My Therapist Aid, if you need a starting point.
5. Don’t let people talk you out of seeking help, taking recommended medications from a doctor/psychiatrist or seeking a therapist, or going to a support group. I did that for a good part of my youth, and I can tell you that no good comes from it. I remember thinking and saying that I am just lazy and I don’t have ADHD.
If I’m honest, I let others guilt and shame me for most of my life, the biggest mistake I made. It led me down a dark path where I spent years hating myself, wondering why I’m not like everyone else.
Instead of doing that like I did before I was diagnosed with ADHD, I want you to remember that your challenges, traumas, and diagnoses are valid. So, now what I do is have a list of various support systems like sponsors, friends who work in mental health, apps, reminders, and other things which help me relate to my diagnoses and challenges more healthily and realistically.
Why are the above things helpful for finding your voice?
For me, advocating for yourself is something incredibly personal. It’s about not letting shame or stigmatized beliefs of others dictate your treatment or recovery. When you first begin your journey of self-advocacy, it can seem challenging and overwhelming. But I’m here to tell you if you keep going; eventually, you’ll get to a point where self-advocating feels more empowering than it feels challenging.
Additionally, if you’re like me and have ADHD or any mental health or psychological diagnoses, I want you to remember the following: Living with any mental illness isn’t fun. I know I’ve felt like my medical conditions are a never-ending battle at times. So it’s important to remember expressing those things to a professional can be difficult even under the best of circumstances.
Nevertheless, you’re taking the first step in empowering yourself over the stigmas many people hold about mental illness and emotional vulnerabilities, and that, my friend, takes strength. I know this because I remember taking my first steps to seek help, and as terrifying as those steps were, they were also the best thing I’ve done for my mental health and recovery.
So remember, even though self-advocating isn’t easy, eventually you’ll get to a point where you begin to see those things aren’t a sign of weakness or mean you’re a burden. On the contrary, they mean you’re human, and acknowledging those aspects of your life makes you stronger than you realize. The reason is being honest about our challenges and diagnosis shows strength, courage, healthy emotional regulation, and so many more good qualities.
So, regardless of what people say, and even though you’ll have a lot of ups and downs, when you’re able to communicate with yourself and with your healthcare providers, you’re telling yourself you are no longer going to let the stigma of others stop you from relating to your challenges and diagnoses in a healthy, resilient, and compassionate manner, regardless of how overwhelmed or anxious you feel.
Lastly, the above things empower us to see that we’re more than our diagnosis and our various challenges, regardless of what people tell us. For that reason, we must empower ourselves concerning how we define and relate to those things instead of letting the stigmatized beliefs and even our own erroneous beliefs dictate how we relate to our mental health diagnosis, challenges, or our recovery.