How entrepreneurial thinking can improve mental health advocacy


I’ve been working on starting a business that can use market forces to create benefit for our communities. This is called social entrepreneurship. Different models vary, but there is usually some sort of intentional balance between making profit to allow the business to grow, and improving society. Often, the organizations making the most difference have been able to find a balance for these two competing interests.

Mandi Kinder holds up a truama informed card at a peer specialist training. "Please be respectful to me," it says, "I can become confused and scared in situations with a large power differential  and a perceived loss of control or voice."
Mandi Kinder holds up a truama informed card at a peer specialist training. "Please be respectful to me," it says, "I can become confused and scared in situations with a large power differential and a perceived loss of control or voice."

Some of my previous commenters have pointed out:

  • Not all social businesses help people. True, but probably more than not.
  • Capitalism has often hurt people. True, but what do you suggest in its place? Keep in mind that the current US economy is not based on free market capitalism, but actually fascism, where large corporations and governments do a lot to take care of each other.
  • Our people are poor and are not used to paying for services. True, but this is also true in the developing world where social benefit organizations have become a strong leveling ground and democratizing influence.

The real question is, What are you doing about the injustice in mental health care? Are you complaining? Are you creating change? Are you improving the current system or working to make it illegal? According to Saul Alinksy, most types of advocacy helps even people that aren’t being advocated for. Like gay rights also helps straight people, fighting racism also helps white people. As long as you are doing something productive, it’s all good.

As Bill McKibben said during the Keynote address at Powershift, a young people’s environmental conference last year, “...The only thing that a morally awake person can do when the worst thing is happening that can happen, is to try to change those odds. There is no guarantee that we will win, but we will fight side by long as long as we’ve got.”

10 Characteristics of successful social entrepreneurs.

This is from The Power of Unreasonble People by Pamela Hartigan and John Elkington. The title comes a George Bernard Shaw quote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Here are the 10 characteristics and how I think they should apply to the mental health civil rights movement.

1. Try to shrug off the constraints of ideology or discipline. Are you able to hear any other point of view besides yours on hot button issues like a role for NAMI, forced medications, or shock treatment? How do you handle your own trauma issues around these topics? As an ECT survivor, I often have to step out of debates about ECT because I  can’t handle the B.S. they say.

The Chocolate Fairy delivering Chocolate to People in Need Of Chocolate
The Chocolate Fairy delivering Chocolate to People in Need Of Chocolate

2. Identify and apply practical solutions to social problems, combining innovation, resourcefulness, and opportunity. As R. Buckminister Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. … You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” What’s your new model?

3. Innovate by finding a new product, a new service, or a new approach to a social problem. Why are we still trying to create peer support centers and crisis alternatives and call in support lines exactly the same way they were conceived 30 years ago? What can we do that’s NEW to fund and spread and scale up these models?

4. Focus—first and foremost—on social value creation and, in that spirit, are willing to share their innovations and insights for others to replicate. I went to a Creative Capital artist development program that launched me into my own business. They said, “Most artists have more to fear from obscurity than plagarism.”

5. Jump in before ensuring they are fully resourced. That’s us. You know we’ve all done this. You know this is the only way to get things get done around here.

6. Have an unwavering belief in everyone’s innate capacity, often regardless of education, to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development. When I look back on my previous career as a mental patient, I don’t remember anyone that harmed me on purpose. Just lots and lots of people caught up in the inaccurate information being spread around. Have enough compassion for misinformed people that you can actually give them information in a way they can hear it. We can handle the deliberate liars differently now that we have social messaging where we can loudly expose their lies. But uninformed people are not necessarily liars. Don’t demonize whole groups of people – they don’t like it any more than we do.

7. Show a dogged determination that pushes them to take risks that others wouldn’t dare. This is us again, we’re willing to work for free for years to create revolution in mental health care. Once we’ve accomplished one hard thing, like recovery from our diagnoses, other things become easier. We also have the patience to work for long term change.

Dogged determination to be there when I got home
Dogged determination to be there when I got home

8. Balance their passion for change with a zeal to measure and monitor their impact. We need data! More data! More publications! Send your manuscripts in. I heard from a panel of 5 different journal editors at the Global Community Psychology and Practice conference in Chicago. All 5 editors said they want to publish more community or participant based research, but they just don’t get the submissions.

9. Have a great deal to teach change makers in other sectors. Yes, mental health connects with racism, environmentalism, sports, art, transportation, etc. What will fix the mental health system will also work in those sectors, and linking the sectors will address many shared needs.

10. Display a healthy impatience (e.g., they don’t do well in bureaucracies, which can raise succession issues as their organizations grow—and almost inevitably become more bureaucratic). This is my very favorite characteristic of all. This is why I never could keep a job and why I’m now very much enjoying being my own boss. How many of you had trouble in a work environment because you knew too much? If you have a good work ethic, you’ll love entrepreneurship. Connect with your local small business development office (most cities have one) and take some classes. You can do this, too!



  1. In other words we need an alternative mental health care approach to compete with the old one and which can show itself to be more successful. People need a choice. Obviously the problem of financing comes then into play. winning over the young psychiatrists, open to new ideas could be a boost

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  2. I think there are different phases in political and social struggles. Social enterprises can take off when there is funding and a market. They can show good practice and that can be used for lobbying but if there is no market different kinds of social change work is needed. Once the market is there then they can thrive.

    So I am all in favour of your work and good social enterprises need encouraging and promoting but it maybe that more active campaigning is needed before they can thrive. Maybe Commissioners of services, developers of policy and consumers need to convinced that these are better options than what is on offer at the moment before they can take off?

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