With most state legislatures convening in January, now is the perfect time to start getting ready to put mental health on the legislative agenda.
Together, let’s make mental health a priority issue — from your local city council to the halls of Congress.
What Should You Advocate For?
NAMI cares about many policies, especially ones that ensure people get help early, get the best possible care and get diverted from justice system involvement. What policy issues are important in your community? Check with your local NAMI office to see what they’re working on locally.
One issue that you can always advocate for is budget funding for mental health services and supports. Budgets reflect community values and constituent needs. As an advocate, you can raise your voice to urge elected officials to invest resources in mental health care.
With Whom Do You Advocate?
Many elected officials at the local, state and national levels play a role in allocating budget funding for mental health services and supports. Direct your advocacy toward these decision-makers to ask them to prioritize mental health funding.
Nationally, members of Congress and the president are responsible for federal funding decisions. These include funding for community services through the Community Mental Health Block Grant, veterans’ mental health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, innovative research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), housing assistance through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and community policing and diversion initiatives through the Department of Justice. The federal government also funds mental health care through Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
At the state level, state legislators and governors decide on funding for community-based mental health services and supports, as well as funding for longer-term care and state-run psychiatric hospitals. If you’re looking to advocate for First Episode Psychosis programs or crisis services funding, direct your advocacy toward state legislators and governors.
Local officials like mayors, council members or county commissioners also make funding decisions for community-based mental health services and supports in their communities, especially if your local government provides care directly.
How Can You Advocate?
Being an advocate means speaking up for the change you wish to see. This can be accomplished by calling, emailing, tweeting, attending a town hall or sitting down and meeting with an elected official or their staff. If you want your policymaker to focus on mental health, you can:
- Connect with your local NAMI office at nami.org/local to see how you can get involved locally as an advocate;
- Text Advocate to 855-469-6629 to sign up to receive NAMI advocacy alerts; and
- Find a local NAMI Smarts for Advocacy class at nami.org/smarts to get trained on how to be an effective advocate.
What Should You Say?
Communicating with elected officials can seem a little scary. But with the right tools, you will be advocating in no time! Talking points are a great tool to help support your argument. You can use talking points with elected officials as a place to start your conversations in person, through email or on the phone. If you’re comfortable, add a brief personal story — no more than 90 seconds — about how mental health impacts you and how funding mental health services and supports will help you and your community.
Here’s some sample language to help you advocate for mental health funding:
- 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition, but tragically, more than half go without needed treatment.
- Mental health services and supports ensure that people with a mental illness receive treatment when they need it — helping them to stay in school, on the job and in recovery.
- Too often, mental illness is overlooked, marginalized and stigmatized.
- Please protect and strengthen [state/county/city]’s mental health programs and invest in proven community services and supports that promote and maintain recovery.
- Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects adults and children of every background, race and religion.
- Funding for mental health is a public health imperative. Please invest in mental health.
What Else Can You Do?
Fortunately, there are more ways to communicate with elected officials than email, phone and in-person. Now, elected officials are interacting with constituents on social media. You can find your elected officials’ social media accounts by going to nami.quorum.us/officials.
Want to engage your elected officials on social media? You can post the sample message below on their Facebook pages or @ them on Twitter or Instagram. Feel free to write your own posts and use #Act4MentalHealth so we can follow your advocacy!
1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition. Funding for mental health is a public health imperative. Please invest in mental health. #Act4MentalHealth
NAMI is strong because of advocates like you: people who will raise their voices and speak out for all affected by mental health conditions. Thank you for helping make funding mental health services and supports a legislative priority!
Stay up to date on NAMI’s advocacy and public policy by following @NAMIAdvocacy on Twitter (twitter.com/NAMIAdvocacy).
Tips For Interacting with Elected Officials and Staff
- Do your research. Read the policymaker’s bio, find their picture and learn about their previous support or work on issues relevant to NAMI.
- Build a connection. Encourage conversations by looking for common interests or connections between you and the elected official or staff member.
- Be prepared. Talking points support your ask and stories move people — but keep your story to 90 seconds or less.
- Keep politics out of it. NAMI is nonpartisan. Respect your elected official’s political views, even if they are different than your own.
- Follow-up. Thank the elected official or their staff for their time and support (if applicable). Mention that NAMI is a resource that offers free local education and support programs. Thank-you notes are highly encouraged.
Jessica W. Hart is Senior Manager, Field Advocacy, at NAMI and Brandon Graham is Senior Manager, Advocacy Campaigns, at NAMI.
Note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of the Advocate.