Iaith Gwaith Cymraeg

My Path to Advocacy

03.11.21

Chris Lerwell, IMCA at Advocacy Support Cymru, Cardiff

Advocacy Awareness Week  1 – 7 November

The first week of November marks Advocacy Awareness Week. ASC is raising awareness of the vital role advocacy plays in empowering people with mental health illnesses to speak out. Chris Lerwell is a Independent Mental Capacity Advocate at ASC.  Here, he tells us his story of how his younger brothers diagnosis inspired him to pursue a career in advocacy.

"When I was little, my younger brother was diagnosed with a Learning Disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Although I did not know what this was at the time, I accompanied my brother to various appointments with lots of different professionals. As I got older, I began to attend multidisciplinary meetings alongside my mother, because I wanted to know more about my brother’s conditions and support needs. In those meetings, I saw my mother work with professionals, and challenge them where necessary, to ensure my brother’s best interests were being considered fully.

As I was finishing my GCSEs, the looming decision of what I was going to do with my life was approaching. I distinctly remember the moment where I thought about my brother, and the life he would have after he left school and became an adult in the world. It dawned on me that my mother would not always be around to attend those meetings with professionals and ensure his needs were at the centre of the decisions being made about him. Therefore, I asked myself if a job existed where the skills and knowledge I gained would empower me to support my brother and ensure his voice continued to be heard by professionals. I toyed with the idea of becoming a nurse, or a social worker, but I wanted to work independently with these professional bodies, not for them. After some time searching for the answer, I came across the role of an Advocate. This role seemed to tick all the right boxes and was the exact career I had been looking for. I had an appointment with a Career’s Advisor, and I told him that I was interested in a career in advocacy. The Careers Advisor told me that a career in advocacy did not exist, and that advocacy was a characteristic of other professions. With the wind taken out of my sails, I went back to the drawing board.

Whilst in school, I was a member of the school council, and represented people in my class. This led to me volunteering for groups such as the Torfaen Young People’s Forum. These volunteering opportunities gave me insight into how advocacy is so powerful in ensuring people’s voices are heard, and social justice is upheld. I was elected the Chairperson for the TYPF for a year, and had the fortune to engage in some fantastic opportunities, such as the first ever Youth Parliament debate held in the House of Commons.

After I left school, I continued volunteering whilst working in different health settings and researching the role of advocacy. I learned about the Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy (IMCA) Service and it was the exact role I had been looking for. When the right opportunity came, I applied to become an IMCA, and I haven’t looked back since!

Advocacy is invaluable in ensuring that people have a voice and can make themselves heard, as well as ensuring their legal rights are upheld. Things have greatly progressed since my time with Career’s Advisor, and there are various statutory and non-statutory advocacy services available to those who need support. The IMCA service is a statutory service that ensures even though someone may be deemed to lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, their rights, wishes and feelings are at the centre of any decisions made about them. I have learned so much from my career, and it feels truly rewarding knowing that my role ensures that people’s voices are heard when it comes to decisions being made about them. I am also part of a fantastic team who support each other when needed.  My brother and I are very close, and I feel so happy knowing that independent advocacy organisations are there to support him if and when he needs them."

Chris feels so passionately about the role of advocacy that he's committed to run the Cardiff Half Marathon next March to help raise as much money as possible for Advocacy Support Cymru. The money Chris raises will help us to support more people like Chris' brother and ensure their views and wishes are heard and their rights are upheld. 

To support to Chris' fundraising efforts, you can donate on his fundraising page: - https://www.facebook.com/donate/1032478167508097/

 

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