Legislators who make important decisions receive much of their information about mental illness the same way the general public does: through the media. While members of Congress also have staffers to study the issues, they rely on constituents for information. That means you. The best way to inform the legislators and give them an accurate picture of the reality of mental illness is to share with them the stories of those whom have had personal experiences with mental illness.
By sharing your story with a policy “ask” (such as requesting to increase the mental health care budget or protecting medications in Medicare) you put a face on mental illness and give it a voice; it becomes something real and tangible rather than something abstract. When you share your story with the legislators honestly, it allows them to understand the depth and reality of mental illness; not only that, it also helps them understand how their decisions affect people’s lives directly.
Real life stories are able to evoke a far more powerful response than bland facts and figures because it touches our humanities; the same thing happens when you share your story. When you share your story with your representatives, it helps them remember that when a decision about mental health policy is being made, it’s affecting real lives. Your story can forge relationships with elected officials so that when decisions about mental health policy cross their desks they think of you, their constituent. By helping your legislator see how it looks from where you stand, you can help improve conditions for everyone who lives with mental illness.†
Keep these thoughts in mind, when contacting your legislator:
While your lived experience is an invaluable asset to our cause, HOW you tell your story can affect the impact you make. Here are some tips from NAMI’s grassroots skill-building program, NAMI Smarts for Advocacy on how to tell your story.
This is a glimpse into how to tell an effective advocacy story, but nothing substitutes for the hands-on learning of a NAMI Smarts for Advocacy workshop. They’re free, fun and you’ll walk away with skills and confidence. Call your NAMI State Organization or Affiliate to see if there is a NAMI Smarts workshop coming up near you.
Start building a relationship with your legislators today. It only takes a couple of minutes to send an email or make a phone call. However if you are not comfortable with sharing your story with your legislators or if you want to do more, you can still be an inspiration and an advocate by sharing your story on NAMI’s You Are Not Alone.
Do you want to join NAMI and speak with members of Congress to advocate for individuals living with mental illness? Learn more about how to tell an effective advocacy story by watching NAMI's webinar on telling your story on NAMI’s National Day of Action, which takes place on Sept. 4, 2014 at the NAMI National Convention.
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