Blog | Module 2: Safety in advocacy and sharing your personal mental health story

Blog | Module 2: Safety in advocacy and sharing your personal mental health story

Written by:
Judah Njoroge. Mental health advocate, techie and youth leader. Nairobi, Kenya.
Margaret Wangeci. Mental health advocate, psychologist and youth leader. Nakuru, Kenya.
Dr Joyce N Wamala. Intern doctor. Kampala, Uganda.

Module two of the Orygen Youth Mental Health Advocacy Fellowship focused on effective ways of sharing our stories to advance our advocacy efforts. We had an amazing group of speakers namely: batyr, Angelica Mkorongo, Dr Zachary Burton, Fatima-Zahra Ma-el-ainin, Sweta Pal and Kate Martin. They took us through a three-part series that started with the importance of sharing your story, evolved into ways to share your story, and ended with using our lived experiences in our advocacy efforts.

The first session focused on understanding your own story and packaging your mental health journey in an impactful way. A theme that came up time and again was tackling mental health stigma through sharing our stories. Stories are more personal and relatable to the communities we work in, therefore our stories are a powerful mental health advocacy tool. Sometimes stories are heavy and triggering for both the listener and speaker and sufficient preparation is required to figure out a healthy way to share our stories. Batyr took us through how to prepare to share our stories and provided the Being herd resource. The guide contains a list of open-ended questions that help you establish some boundaries on what to share based on the intended income. The guide also contains ten steps you can follow when sharing your story, which helps highlight pivotal moments in your journey. The ten steps provide a space to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination while allowing our listeners to hear about the importance of taking care of their mental health and where they can get the assistance they need. Oliver Bryant from batyr gave us a practical example by sharing his own story through the being herd format. His story summarised his experiences but also gave us insight on what to do when going through mental health challenges, and that it is possible to get better.

The second session focused on ways to share our stories. We looked at three different examples from experts who have curated ways to share mental health experiences inclusively. Dr Burton kicked things off by illustrating how the Manic Monologues were developed and how they grew to a current international mental health advocacy tool. These monologues are simply lived experiences that shed a light on mental health challenges. They capture different people, experiences, conditions and recovery journeys. The monologues help break down the idea that mental illnesses are linear in their onset, manifestation and recovery. The stories help us focus on the person’s experience and journey, they help humanise mental health as something we all have and need to pay attention to. It is amazing to see how a simple story from one person ripples into more stories on a global scale. We also had the pleasure to hear from Fatima-Zahra and her amazing work, helping us form collective narratives. She led us through her experience and helped us curate a poem that described our own experiences. We also heard from Sweta Pal and the wonderful campaign she leads on sharing stories. An important factor that came up was finding a way to share the story that works for you, in a format that works for you and your community.

The last session focused on using lived experience as a tool for advocacy. We live in a vibrant and diverse world that offers various opportunities for us all. What unites us is our experiences and our perceptions. Kate Martin took us through the session and the important work she is doing in amplifying the voices of people with lived experiences in implementing strategies and pathways to inclusion.

The three of us (blog authors) live and work in East Africa. We are glad to be part of nations that actively try to embrace mental health but we still have a way to go. A significant barrier is the stigma and discrimination which inhibit people to access the help they need. An effective advocacy tool we implement is sharing stories and allowing for people in our communities to share their stories as well.

The module helped us learn how to navigate some of the hurdles we face when sharing our stories and helped us package stories better in order to create more impact. Stories are key in uniting us as communities and humanising the challenges that we go through, they pierce through the veil of stigma and discrimination and call for some form of action that leads to positive change. The module advanced our knowledge of one of the best advocacy tools in our arsenal – sharing our stories safely in an impactful way.