Iaith Gwaith Cymraeg

My Experience as a Community Mental Health Advocate

01.11.21

Demi Barnard, CMHA at Advocacy Support Cymru, Cardiff

Advocacy Awareness Week  1 – 7 November

The first week of November marks Advocacy Awareness Week. ASC are the largest provider of Independent Mental Health Advocacy in South Wales and this week, we hope to raise awareness of the vital role advocacy plays in empowering people with mental health illnesses to speak out. Demi Barnard is a Community Mental Health Advocate at ASC.  Here, she tells us why she chose a career in advocacy and how she feels she makes a difference in empowering people with mental illnesses to have a voice.

“My journey as a mental health advocate so far has been empowering, diverse and most of all extremely rewarding.

I became an advocate as I had seen the inequality that still exists between individuals with mental health conditions and ‘typically functioning’ people. I wanted to make a difference and shatter the barriers which people with mental health conditions face. Unfortunately, we live in a society where there is still stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental health. This can only be tackled by raising awareness, and most importantly, tackling these barriers and stereotypes head on.

As a mental health advocate, this is my aim: to help people be heard and give them a voice when they feel they don’t have one. Our aim is to empower people to speak up and put their views and wishes forward without the worry that they are being judged and discriminated against due to their mental health.

One thing I’ve found whilst being a community mental health advocate is the isolation and loneliness felt by a lot of my clients, and feeling that they have nobody on their side to just listen to them and see things from their perspective. And that’s where I come in. Working in a non-judgemental way, the views and wishes of my clients are always my main concern. Just by listening to and assuring my clients that I’m on their side, to help them get their voice heard, always results in a sigh of relief, with a number of them becoming emotional as they are so thankful just to have someone on their side for once. This shows just how much of a stigma there still is around mental health, with people feeling like they are on their own because of a condition that’s out of their control.

Being a community mental health advocate has been empowering both for myself and my clients. Many clients have told me “I wouldn’t have been listened to if it wasn’t for your help”, which I think really shows the importance of advocacy in the mental health system.

In my time as an advocate, I have worked with a diverse range of people who have had a number of issues they’ve needed my help with facing. And together, as a team, myself and my clients work in collaboration to make sure that they are heard.

One issue that has come to light during my time as an advocate is the lack of understanding from employers in relation to ill mental health. I have had a number of clients who are unable to work for a period of time due to their mental health and yet they are still being inundated with calls and emails from their employers about work matters. The need for rest and recovery for mental health is often overlooked with a number of my clients saying they were unable to take the time to look after themselves as they still had the external stressors of their employers on their backs.

In these situations, I have been able to help by being the person’s voice, and liaising with their employers on their behalf during this time of recovery, to ease the pressure and expectations, allowing the individual take time to concentrate on themselves and improve their mental health.

Through my role as an advocate I aim to continue empowering people and promoting accessibility and equality for people with mental health conditions, to contribute to the mental health movement and close the gap between people with mental health conditions and the rest of society.”

Advocacy Support Cymru (ASC) is a registered charity that specialises in the provision of professional, confidential and independent advocacy for those eligible in secondary care and community mental health settings across a number of health boards in South Wales.

Our Advocates can support in relation to treatment, medication, services, rights and options and will enable you to have your say in your treatment and care. They will not judge the wishes of those they support or look to seek to persuade a client into a particular course of action. Advocates provide information to people to help them understand what options might be available, but do not decide or advise which one to take. Our advocates give people a voice and empower them to speak out for their rights.

ASC specialises in Independent Mental Health Advocacy, Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy and Independent Community Mental Health Advocacy. As our services are independent, we are able to act solely on behalf of our service users and are not governed by the NHS, Local Authority staff or families.

To find out more about our advocacy services, check eligibility or request a referral, contact info@ascymru.org.uk.

To donate to ASC and ensure we can continue to empower people with mental health illnesses to speak out, Text VOICE to 70450 to donate £5.

*Texts will cost the donation amount plus one standard network rate message, and you’ll be opting into hearing more from us. If you would like to donate but don’t wish to hear more from us, please text VOICENOINFO instead