It’s not sexy to be a mental health advocate


October is breast cancer awareness month.  I didn’t know that until eight days into October.  My realization started when I went to the local grocery store and every other cashier light (you know the one that tells you when their open) was pink.  And they were asking for donations at the register for breast cancer research dollars.  Still didn’t realize it, because people ask for money for everything now.

Then, I went shopping.  Pink shirts for sale everywhere.  I was so impressed.  Everyone, unless of course you’ve been living under a rock, knows pink is the color for breast cancer.  It’s a highly successful awareness campaign that started in full force over twenty years ago.  Heck, even the NFL is “pinked out” in October.  As a mental health advocate I dream about the day when everyone knows mental health awareness is green and guys like Brandon Marshall (click here for Brandon’s mental health advocacy organization) don’t get fined $10,000 dollars by the NFL for wearing green cleats.

But when something is successful it warrants looking at their model and learning from all the good things breast cancer awareness advocacy organizations have done.  In fact, it all peaked my interest in finding out just how much money is spent annually on breast cancer research.

The answer-cloudy.  Mmmm….what do I mean by that?

Well, turns out that breast cancer awareness and research are lumped into one big estimated sum of $6 billion a year.  Of course there are critics who think all money should be research money.  But you don’t get research donations without awareness.

Why is this important to mental health advocacy?  Because the National Institute of Mental Health has an annual budget of only $1.5 billion.  The National Institute of Mental Health funds research for mental illness and neurological conditions (brain illnesses), like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, depression, etc.  All of these illnesses have a fraction of money spent on research.

I compared the annual budget of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast cancer advocacy organization based in Texas, (well known for the trademarked tagline “Race for the Cure”) to that of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the largest mental health advocacy organization in the country.  I found the Komen foundation listed as #54 on the Forbes list of U.S. most wealthy charities with $250 million in annual revenue in 2016.  That’s for one year folks.  On the other hand, NAMI based in Arlington, VA has a little over $10 million in revenue.

In all fairness, NAMI has affiliaties in all 50 states who also have revenue, but I doubt even including all of them would break a $50 million in total revenue.

What’s my point?

How are we going to make sizable contributions as mental health advocates when the largest organization of advocacy only nets $10 million a year?  So many diseases to lobby for research on-so few dollars.  So many issues to battle, so few people to do the work.

And then there’s this…

#1)  STIGMA. It’s not cool to be a mental health advocate.

#2)  STIGMA. It’s not sexy to go out and raise money for people who have a mental illness.

#3) STIGMA. These illnesses are misunderstood.  They are often not looked at as an illness.

#4) STIGMA.  People are ashamed to come out and say they are living with a mental illness.

#5)  STIGMA. Policy makers don’t understand it, unless it effects them.

#6) STIGMA.  Family members don’t want people to know their loved ones live with a mental illness.


I could go on and on.  You get the point.  We have limited resources for a very complex problem that most people don’t understand and many fear and are afraid to talk about.

So..if you’re reading this please pick up an advocacy banner.  There’s an enormous amount of work that needs done.  The Susan G. Komen Foundation started with raising awareness for breast cancer.  Mental Health Adovocates have to do the same thing.  We have to help one another do this work.

If you’re local to the Wheeling area you can start your advocacy work by showing up at the NAMI Greater Wheeling Walk on October 21 @Wheeling Park.  Registration starts at 10am.


We even have cool tee-shirts.




6 thoughts on “It’s not sexy to be a mental health advocate

  1. Hi Amy, the 6 components of Stigma and more you mention hit so close to home. If in the USA it can be that way, imagine back here in my country Cameroon, Africa where mental health/illness is more often than not attributed to witchraft/vodoo and of course the sufferer’s fault. Definitely a long way to go: I however don’t want ‘sexy’ if that’s the only route to my being a fierce mental health advocate. I am basically a pacesetter in my country and community and I get all such of mixed messages – but am all in and on and no one is going to fine or distract me – no not even my own mental health challenges

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marie…thanks for your comment. I probably used the wrong word for my title. It should have said attractive instead of sexy. I was just trying to make the point that it’s hard to be a mental health advocate because we have so many battles to fight. I feel for you that you even have a harder road. But I’m glad you are fighting and will make this your life passion!!


  2. Ladies think about the word sexy… In order to be sexy, you need to be “present” and “passionate”, not to mention open to your possibilities and aware of your wants and needs. Now there is a nice dichotomy for ya. Sexy and cool is what I was thinking. Perhaps you were right all along. 🙃

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your analysis of this. I think you’re right that stigma is probably our biggest obstacle. I remember a few years ago that Komen caught some heat when it was revealed that their $$$ was funding more pink swag than actual cancer research, but still, they’re more or less a household name at this point. They may be chiefly responsible for people being aware of breast cancer as a public health issue because of how likely women are to develop it by X age – and that’s HUGE! More people get tested and start getting tested at younger ages, even involving genetics and heritability. But Komen, et. al. didn’t have to fight stigma the way we do. Your checklist is very much on point. Stigma even permeates our vocabulary (“The weather’s so bipolar this week.” or “My ex is totally psychotic!”) and I personally bristle when I hear people misuse clinical terms like that. What maybe bothers me even more is when people who don’t live with a mental illness tell me that I don’t need to be ashamed. Um, thanks? I’ll be sure to mention my bipolar at my next job interview. What do you mean I won’t get hired? You said I shouldn’t be ashamed. Right?? Sorry that this is a little long and meandering, I have a lot of thoughts on this, but I think your take on it is really sensible and well thought out. May have to come back and give this a reread. Thanks for writing about it so honestly and doing the legwork re: stats and finances. Really solid read! 🙂 -LB

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. You added a lot to the discussion. It’s so hard as you mention to fight stigma. I like your example of the job interview. It made me laugh. I think I’d really like to dissect stigma more. Maybe we can tackle one part of it at a time and make some headway. I just might have to look into that some more.

      Liked by 1 person

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