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A mental health advocate helps protect those with mental illness. She might work directly with individual patients, helping them to achieve rights or privileges granted by regional or country laws that are presently being denied. These same people or other types of advocates may work in a broader sense, fighting for greater rights for the mentally ill. In any country where people can vote, each person might also be a mental health advocate to an extent.
Types of mental health advocates working with patients may be privately or state employed, and come from different education and training backgrounds. Some are attorneys and others might be therapists or psychologists. They may work in locations like mental hospitals or in advocacy organizations.
Within hospitals, a mental health advocate might listen to grievances of patients and make certain that individual patient rights are respected. When rights are violated, advocates try to remedy this. Advocacy outside hospitals could address workplace discrimination due to mental illness.
Additional advocacy types help people apply for disability benefits based on a persistent mental illness, or fight benefit denial. Advocates could become intermediaries between mental health clinicians and clients. This might occur when mental health care is mandatory and disputes arise.
Another part of the job may be promoting awareness about mental illness and working hard to create legislative changes that will support those with mental health conditions. Some people focus solely on this second task instead of offering support to individuals. Yet many organizations are a blend of the two goals.
In this second type of work, raising awareness can help to establish a climate in which people can begin to demand change in the treatment of those with mental illness. This can ultimately be very successful, catching the attention of politicians who will further the cause. In 2008, for instance, the US federal government signed into law the Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA), which had been championed by the likes of the late Senator Edward Kennedy. The law demands insurance treat most forms of mental illness as no different than physical illness and requires that insurance companies offering mental health coverage offer it at the same level and pricing as medical coverage.
When a mental health advocate wants to see this kind of legislation passed, he often begins at grassroots level, building support for the idea, and this may take a while to accomplish.
Anyone with the right to vote may be a mental health advocate. There are periodically laws or bills that come up for a vote that allow people to stand for those with mental illness. In the simplest sense anyone can vote for them, just as anyone can call a congressperson or senator and elicit their support for mental health legislation that would improve the lives of the mentally ill.