Conversations: 6 Mental Illness Advocacy Tips

February 27, 2013 Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Hiya readers! Mental illness advocacy is important and can take place even in the context of your own family. I recently shared some of my challenges in giving my father the talk about Bob's ADHD diagnosis. It wasn't easy. For a few reasons - the biggest one being that I was afraid of how my father would react. For someone like me who wasn't allowed the freedom to feel all of my feelings (including anger) towards my father, I grew up thinking that I couldn't ever be upset because it was SO scary for me. So you can imagine advocating for my son's mental illness didn't come easy to me.

I grew up thinking that my heart was going to jump out of my chest anytime I thought about asserting myself much less confronting someone. Before having my child, I didn't. I was more passive in showing my feelings. They existed, but in a roundabout way.

In reflecting on my mental illness advocacy journey, I realized that I learned tools that might help other parents like me to become a mental health advocate and have those difficult conversations with family or friends who aren't receptive at all to his/her child's mental illness. Below are three of the tips I personally used in some of my challenging talks (because there were many) and hopefully you'll find them helpful.

Mental Illness Advocacy Tip 1

Starting with Love

The first thing I needed to think about was why this conversation was important. Despite the challenges I dealt with growing up with my father, I loved him and needed him to be with me on this journey with Bob and his ADHD or, at least, to understand what I was going through. Also, I knew that he was more invested in our relationship than before because of the loss of my mother when Bob was a toddler. I loved (and still do) my father and needed him to be in my village (support network). Think about why the loved one is important to you and your child's life. Reflect on what that person (though unreceptive) brings to the table. For me, having my father there meant allowing Bob to have a better relationship with his only grandfather.

Mental Illness Advocacy Tip 2

Writing It Down

I thought about what I wanted to say to my father beginning with my loving feelings toward him. Writing down my words help shape the conversation. I was able to pinpoint the most important things - feelings, needs and wants - that I needed to share. In doing so, I was able to find the right words that would have the most positive impact. It also helped reduce my anxiety about asserting myself, my parenting style and Bob's needs.

Mental Illness Advocacy Tip 3

Picking a Positive Moment

I chose a happy time to have the conversation with my father. It wasn't a holiday, but just a really nice visit with my father and his companion (whom I love!). While Bob was with Rose (name changed), I had some of the talk with my father. He was more receptive than he would have been if he was upset or annoyed with Bob (as on a day when Bob was picked up from school by his grandfather).

These are three tips I used while talking with my father. He hasn't fully signed on to the bandwagon, but at least he's understanding some of Bob's needs. And that's what mental health advocacy is about. Hopefully, these will help good (but hard) conversations to begin so that you can get support while parenting a child with mental illness. Look for the final three mental illness advocacy tips next week on how to have tough conversations with loved ones.

APA Reference
Zalamar, H. (2013, February 27). Conversations: 6 Mental Illness Advocacy Tips, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, February 27 from

Author: Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

MJ Koch
February, 4 2014 at 9:20 am

How can I politely stop people (loved ones) from using the word " crazy" etc. I am dealing with my grandson whom I love so much. If people are going to be unkind, I don't want to talk about it. It hurts too much and makes me angry inside. Thanks, MJ

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 11 2014 at 1:03 am

Hi MJ,
Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Unfortunately, it is very hard to polite stop loved ones from expressing themselves in a particular way. My advice to you is to share how hurtful it is every single time. With my father, it has taken many conversations for him to understand Bob. But, my father still struggles. He can see the progress that Bob has made, but easily gets annoyed with Bob because Bob is more expressive than my father would like. I've parented Bob differently than what my parents did with me. It takes many conversations to get others to change. But if you keep trying, things will happen. Best of luck to you.

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