By definition, advocacy is “the act of speaking, writing or acting in support of something or someone.” “Speaking out” doesn’t have to mean giving a speech — it can also mean writing a letter, sending an email, participating in a meeting, showing up to a rally. There are many ways to make our voices heard!
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Everyone who experiences mental illness deserves the right mental health services and supports at the right time. With those key supports in place, recovery is possible. To make that happen, we have to let elected officials, the media and the general public know what’s needed.
Working with individual lawmakers (For all practical purposes, these terms mean the same thing: lawmakers = policymakers = legislators) and lawmaking (legislative) bodies to gain support for your cause or initiative, for the needs of a specific population, for an organization or group of organizations, or for specific services.
LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY VS. INDIVIDUAL ADVOCACY
Individual advocacy is helping someone navigate a particular situation, whereas legislative advocacy is an ongoing process of working to improve the policies that affect those situations. There are many activities that go into that process.
This analogy is helpful in making the distinction between legislative and individual advocacy:
Imagine someone lost in a forest without a trail. You can go to them and guide them through the woods (individual advocacy). You can even give them a map to make the journey easier (individual advocacy). Or, you can work with others to create a path so that everyone finds their way (legislative advocacy or “systems change”).