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  • Writer's pictureKat Klawes

A Mental Health Journey From Action to Advocacy

Updated: May 6


In the wake of the #MeToo movement, I found myself among the thousands of survivors sharing their stories. My own story, as a survivor of sexual assault both in childhood and adulthood, transitioned from one of victimhood to becoming a vocal advocate for change. My story has been covered by national newspapers like the Huffington Post and NY Magazine and catapulted me to the national spotlight involving the dialogue on how we support sexual assault survivors and how survivors are often harmed by universities.


 

I will share my advocacy experience on a new show launched by Dawn Helmrich and Neil Parekh, “Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health.” You can watch the she show live Thursday, April 25 at 6pm CT / 7pm ET on Facebook, Twitter*, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram* and Neil’s website. *We won't know the specific urls for Twitter and Instagram until we go live. For now, they go to Neil and Dawn's accounts respectively.

 

My battle began in my college years, following an assault that threatened to upend my life. My undergraduate university threatened to expel sexual assault survivors, like me, who talked about their assault, the impacts on their mental health, thoughts of self-harm, and many other topics. My story is not unique, thousands of sexual assault survivors are silenced by their universities every year, even decades after the #MeToo Movement.


In 2015, I began to challenge and change the harmful policies of my university, advocating for a system that supports rather than silences survivors. I then was launched on an almost 10-year journey related to policy for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.

My journey is a testament to the therapeutic power of advocacy. Diagnosed with PTSD as a result of my assaults, I found that engaging in advocacy work helped to combat feelings of powerlessness and helped me, and others like me, rebuild a sense of agency and control. By taking legal action and becoming one of the youngest bill authors in Michigan, I utilized my traumatic experiences as a catalyst for systemic change, demonstrating the significant impact that mental health advocacy can have on individuals.


Survivor Shoulders: A Supportive Community


I founded Survivor Shoulders, a grassroots organization dedicated to offering a lifeline to those navigating their healing journey. Recognizing the importance of mental health support, the organization provides various initiatives, including housing assistance, book clubs, and writing workshops, all designed to offer survivors a community of support and understanding. Survivor Shoulders exemplifies the critical role of solidarity and advocacy in fostering recovery and empowerment.


The Impact on Policy and Mental Health Awareness


My focus remains on illuminating the mental health challenges survivors face and the transformative potential of advocacy. Through my personal story and the collective efforts of survivors engaging in policy reform, there is a growing recognition of the need for mental health resources that are accessible and tailored to the unique needs of survivors. My work highlights how survivor-led advocacy raises awareness and leads to tangible legislative reforms that prioritize mental health support and protect survivors.


A Journey of Empowerment and Healing


My story is just one reminder of the power and possibility for all survivors to overcome adversity through advocacy and solidarity. My work not only sheds light on the critical intersection of mental health and survivor advocacy, but also serves as an inspiring reminder of the strength and resilience inherent in every survivor's journey. My goal is to highlight the importance of listening to, supporting, and amplifying the voices of survivors, recognizing their role as powerful agents of change and healing.




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