The Importance of Advocacy
by Barbara Faron
May is Mental Health Awareness month, a time in which we can work to raise awareness of mental health challenges and the stigma that surrounds those challenges. Approximately 1 in 5 adults experiences a mental health issue every year. That’s over 43.8 million Americans in any given year. As we focus on stopping the stigma, we thought it was also a good chance to highlight the importance of Advocacy.
An advocate is defined as a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy. Advocates are champions, upholders, supporters, backers, promoters, or proponents. Federation began as a group of family advocates in 1972, fighting to get the best services for the ones they loved, at a time when individuals with mental illness were locked away in institutions. At that time, families were blamed when individuals suffered with mental illness and parents were thought to be defective.
Two of those family advocates were Irving and Irene Berkowitz who worked tirelessly on behalf of their son Michael, to help him live as independently as possible with dignity and support. Irving, who later went on to become Federation’s President of the Board of Directors, passed away in 2012. Late last year, his son Michael passed away. Michael’s life was a reminder that we have come so far from institutionalization to community-based living and also of the struggle and inspiration of advocates everywhere. Their work persists…and they are changing the way people with mental illness receive the services they need to live healthy, satisfying lives, a right that everyone deserves and is entitled to.
Our agency was formed as a result of the collective force of these advocates and we continue to be pioneers in the new effort to meet individuals where they are at and provide them the tools to help themselves.
As we recognize Mental Health Health Awareness Month, let us remember the work of the advocates: the families, the friends, the peers, the social workers, the nurses, the doctors, the ones who work day in and day out to help better the lives of those they care about and serve. Their work does not go unnoticed.