Advocacy is a means of supporting and helping people to speak up or act for themselves.
The key aims of mental health and AOD advocacy are to empower people who use mental health and AOD services and to protect their rights as citizens by helping them to get their views across.
Empowerment is an essential aspect of advocacy and so integrates well with the peer support role. It supports and promotes people's rights to speak and act for themselves and to regain some control over their lives.
Advocacy is different from advice in that advice work is concerned with information and advocacy is concerned essentially with support, although clearly advocacy will involve some information, and advice will involve some element of support.
Advocates do not take a deliberate adversarial stance, but neither do they seek to avoid confrontation and challenges where they are necessary. They seek to practise reasoned negotiation. Advocates do not decide what is “right” for the client, but will help the client make informed decisions for themselves.At a client’s request, an advocate will speak on behalf of the client.
Advocacy support is needed in the mental health and addiction services because people who use them can feel, and be, disempowered by the rules, procedures and people providing the services.
Decisions are taken that affect people’s daily lives and well-being, for example:
- being detained in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act
- being prescribed medication which has adverse physical side effects
- how much money they have to live on through the welfare benefits system
- provision of suitable accommodation
- the amount of support, such as home help, that will be provided to them