By: Sofia Driscoll

Since World Mental Health Day just happened on October 10th, I’ve been thinking a good deal about how the societal conversation about mental health has evolved since I first started caring about the issue. Mostly, I’ve been feeling really encouraged by the progress that mental health advocates in the US and around the world have made to normalize both having conversations about and seeking treatment for mental health issues. That said, we can’t stop here — there’s still a lot of work to be done.

When I first started dabbling in mental health advocacy, the movement was all about spreading awareness. Messaging from regular people and high-profile mental health advocates alike was all about encouraging people to talk openly about mental health and its treatments. Don’t get me wrong, that’s all well and good — but it rarely went further than that.

This year, five years after I originally started paying attention to this conversation, I’m seeing a lot more messaging that goes beyond awareness-spreading. A lot of advocates have started taking it as a given that a large proportion of people are aware that mental health isn’t treated with its due diligence in our society. Now, the conversation is moving towards the structural and legislative changes that need to happen for mental health care to be the most cost-effective and accessible that it can be. These conversations, I think, are the ones that are most urgent — if appropriate mental health care is unreachable for low-income, minority, and other marginalized populations, then awareness and stigma-reduction don’t really do much.

With this in mind, I want to draw your attention to five of my favorite organizations that contribute to the conversation about mental health. I like these organizations because while they spread awareness and open up conversations, they also actively advocate for accessible and inclusive mental health care for all populations in our society. By paying attention to what these orgs are doing, I become more informed about the ins and outs of mental health advocacy. These are listed in no particular order.

  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) — NAMI is likely the most comprehensive organization on this list. They offer support for all different populations — including veterans, members of the LGBTQ+ community, teens and young adults, and family members of those affected by mental illness — and they do that through chapter affiliates located all across the United States. They even offer a particularly unique program called NAMI FaithNet, which provides resources for religious leaders trying to navigate the world of mental health in their congregations. Beyond immediate support, NAMI is active in the world of public policy, working to increase funding for mental health research, making mental health care more accessible to the general population through medicaid and medicare, and advocating for better mental health treatment in both the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. They also provide general information about a myriad of mental health diagnoses on their website for curious people to learn from.
  2. Active Minds — Founded by Alison Malmon after she lost her brother to suicide, Active Minds is an organization focused specifically on college students’ mental health. They run campaigns such as “Send Silence Packing”, a display of backpacks that college campuses can use to show students how many of their peers are lost to suicide each year. They also run a national conference every year where they teach college students about the further steps that need to be taken for college mental health, such as offering more long term treatment at college counseling centers and creating less stigma about seeking out treatment on campus. Active Minds also has a chapter at Marquette that’s doing pretty great things, so like their page on Facebook, Active Minds Marquette, and follow them on Instagram @activemindsmarq.
  3. The Trevor Project — The Trevor Project is a suicide prevention organization focusing on the LGBTQ+ population under 25 years old. They provide affirming crisis services, maintain an online forum for youth and young adults to form community with each other, and sponsor ample research in the field of suicidology. They also advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and suicide prevention through political activism.
  4. To Write Love on Her Arms — Like Alison Malmon (the founder of Active Minds), Jamie Tworkowski founded To Write Love on Her Arms as a way of honoring someone close to him who struggled with mental illness. It began when he posted his friend Renee’s story on MySpace and sold t-shirts to cover the cost of her inpatient treatment for depression, addiction, and self-injury. Now, TWLOHA has an online store where they sell apparel, accessories, and other inspirational merchandise to spread awareness of these issues. They use the profits from the online store to fund treatment centers, respond to queries from struggling people all across the world, and provide mental health education to individuals, organizations and communities. They also have a ‘Find Help’ tool on their website that people can use to get connected with mental health treatment in their area.
  5. Mental Health on the Mighty — Mental Health on the Mighty is a subset of a larger online community called The Mighty. The Mighty is an online forum for people with any physical or mental diagnosis to connect with each other and share in their experiences. People can post casual thoughts that are only seen by members of the site, or they can write and publish more polished articles and blog-style posts about their experience with illness, which can also be seen by people who aren’t members of the site. These articles are great for educating people about illnesses and experiences that they may not have thought to research themselves, and it helps to destigmatize the myriad of medical experiences people may have. Because they provide an outlet for so many people to share their personal stories, I think Mental Health on The Mighty does a particularly good job of empowering people to seek out treatment and making them feel less alone.

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