Mental health advocacy includes a variety of different actions aimed at changing the major structural and attitudinal barriers to achieving positive mental health outcomes in populations. The concept was initially developed to reduce stigma and discrimination and to promote the human rights of persons with mental disorders.

The advocacy movement had its origins in a range of organizations that set out to encourage support for vulnerable groups in society. The early aims were to develop communities whose members were more able, competent and willing to speak on behalf of other persons and advocate for them. This required listening to the points of view of the vulnerable groups, respecting their wishes, protecting their interests and standing with them to defend their rights. Individuals who had been stigmatized, ignored and excluded by society were enabled to become active members of their communities (Citizen Advocacy, Information and Training, 2000).