A mental health advocate is a sub-classification of the job category known as patient’s rights advocacy. These mental health social workers endeavor to assist individuals being treated for mental illness and help them in dealing with a wide variety of problematic issues during their illness like billing and payment questions, working with insurance companies, intervening with physicians or hospitals, and generally serving to manage and fight for the rights of the patient.
Some mental health advocates may work on behalf of a specific cause or issue, rather than for specific individuals. Other advocates inform and counsel clients concerning their options and the possible ramification of those, helping the individual arrive at the decision best-suited for him. “Advocacy helps to give clients a measure of autonomy and dignity. By participating in the processes that affect their lives - making treatment decisions, negotiating with clinicians, setting house rules in their residence or controlling their finances - clients grow in their independence,” says the California Association of Mental Health Patients' Rights Advocates.
Mental health advocates are typically employed by social service organizations, charities, government agencies, hospitals, nursing homes or, according to the education website degrees.info, large advocacy groups like the Patient Advocate Network, the National Patient Advocate Foundation or the Patient Advocacy Coalition. Some states, like California, have laws requiring the government to supply mental health advocates for many patients, such as those hospitalized in the state mental health system.
Social workers work with a wide variety of people, some with extreme illnesses, still others with substance abuse difficulties, legal problems, or any number of severe issues. Advocates must possess a solid understanding of human behavior and psychology, while maintaining a compassionate, yet professional approach, one that may require assisting the patient on several different levels. Excellent communication, organizational and time management skills are crucial in allowing an advocate to effectively deal with typically large numbers of simultaneous cases.
A bachelor’s degree in social work is the common entry point into a career as a mental health advocate, with enhanced degrees optimizing potential employment and income opportunities. All of the United States and the District of Columbia require additional licensure and certification. “As of June 2009, the Council on Social Work Education accredited 468 bachelor's programs and 196 master's programs,” reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Compensation and Outlook
According to SimplyHired.com, as of June 2010, the average annual salary for a mental health advocate rests at approximately $45,000, with overall compensation ranging from $20,000 to $60,000, dependent on experience and education level, in addition to region and specific employer. The BLS says that employment for social workers is expected to increase by 16 percent between 2008 and 2018. This is especially true for those working in rural areas or specializing in advocacy for elderly patients.