​Strong Self-Advocacy Leads to Better Mental Health

Posted by Lauren Presutti in Life After Paralysis on November 04, 2020 # Health, Lifestyle

Self-advocacy is vital for individuals and families affected by disabilities. It allows you to be the expert on your life and speak up about what disability-related services or accommodations you need to be successful. YOU are your own best advocate. Of course, we are thankful to have community organizations that advocate for the disability community on social or political levels, but when it comes to your individual life, I strongly encourage people to be their own advocates. Speak up and have your voice heard when confronting daily challenges. You know your life and what your needs are better than teachers, doctors, social workers, counselors, lawyers, and other advocates of any kind. Self-advocacy is so important because it gives you a platform to define how you interact with the world as a person with a disability. Your voice is what matters most because this is your life, and becoming a powerful self-advocate helps you be in control of your life and your future. For these reasons, I am a strong proponent of self-advocacy, and I work with people affected by disabilities to strengthen their self-advocacy skills.

man and woman

Being the boss of your own life is certainly appealing – and that may be enough for you to jumpstart your journey to developing stronger self-advocacy skills – but when I speak about this important topic, I can’t help but also bring in my clinical perspective as a mental health therapist. I want people to know that becoming a strong self-advocate is about more than having your disability-related needs met. It’s about your mental health, too.

In the mental health field, I recognize that people have better psychological health when they feel in control of their lives, when they have self-awareness and can utilize their strengths, and when they can express their wants and needs. People are better able to cope with distrustful circumstances when they develop a vision for what they want to change and then carry out a plan to be successful. Overall, people are more likely to experience positive mental health when they feel like they are living their best lives, speaking up about what matters to them, and engaging in meaningful dialogue where they feel heard. They are more likely to develop skills related to problem-solving, resiliency, creativity, and distress tolerance.

Just the opposite, feeling like you don’t have control, like you are being mistreated, like you are being denied resources or access to equal opportunities, or feeling like your voice isn’t being heard, often leads to anxiety and depression. Poor mental health outcomes result when people are subject to the rest of the world speaking for them. For people affected by disabilities, it is a common experience to have medical doctors, physical or occupational therapists, teachers, or caregivers who make recommendations on your behalf. These are excellent information sources to consider, but we must ensure the person with a disability is not left out of the conversation. In my experience, people with disabilities who are not included as valuable, contributing team members end up feeling the negative effects of being left out, misunderstood, undervalued, and unappreciated.

If you have a disability and are struggling to feel in control of your life, ask yourself if there may be opportunities for you to speak up and self-advocate for greater control. Sometimes having a disability means that we must cope with limitations and accept losses, but don’t be afraid to reclaim the power that you have over everything you CAN control. Identifying opportunities where you can be a leader, engaging in experiences that rely on your decision-making, and positioning yourself as someone that others must consult with can make a significant difference in your mental health. Always self-advocate for yourself by showing others what skills and strengths you have to contribute. Don’t let other people make you believe they have greater expertise in your life than you do.

Perhaps most importantly, take some time to reflect on your mental health needs and consider how you define yourself as a self-advocate. Are you feeling heard? Do you need additional disability-related accommodations? Is there something that could help you overcome a barrier? Are you accessing the right information and resources? How are these things impacting your mental health, coping skills, quality of life, or feelings of empowerment? Remember that self-advocacy and managing mental health are both continual learning processes. If you are struggling to make progress, speak up. Reach out to a professional for help, and remember you are never alone.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.