Mental Health Advocates are a powerful voice for change that is made up of thousands of individuals nationwide who take an active role in protecting America’s mental health through legislative advocacy. Because of our actions, we have won major victories such as the recently enacted Mental Health Parity Act. We speak out and make our voices heard on equal access to care, federal funding, treatment and prevention. We are trying to get Mental Health and Suicide Prevention funded equal to or near the level of other illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease. All of those illnesses started with very little funding (like mental health and suicide prevention) and all are now funded in the millions and billions annually. They didn’t reach that level of funding overnight. It took much advocacy work from people just like you and me, ordinary people with a connection to the cause.
Now, if tackling Washington DC seems a bit daunting to you, start local. How are patients treated at your local community mental health center? How are mental health patients treated in the ER? For these issues, you would want to start talking with your local legislators. Are there enough or any support groups in your town? For this, check groups like with DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance) and see if you could receive training to start your own support group or if they would be able to help find someone to start it. You can post informational flyers from different mental health organizations (DBSA, Mental Health America, local mental health facility). All of these places and more will provide brochures and flyers for free and you can post them throughout your community to promote education.
All of these are ways to put Mental Health Advocacy into Action. It all just depends on your level of comfort. When I started, I didn’t jump right in and start talking to congress. I took baby steps and then realized there was no stopping me. I’ve been to DC a few times on behalf of mental health and suicide prevention initiatives. I have found that is where my passion is. I found my voice and discovered that people will listen. When making my appointments, I’m polite, but very persistent. I do not take no for an answer. I just recently had a phone meeting with the congressman from my district. I found him to be very polite, interested in what I had to say, and concerned. The meeting was quite long. We discussed both national and state concerns. He was very concerned about the community mental health center in our district (as am I) and he and I will be discussing that further. My point in telling you this is once you find your comfort zone, just go with it and be an unstoppable (respectful) force. These legislators are just now starting to make laws that truly effect us so it is more important now than ever before that they hear from us. They need to know if what they are writing into their bills will work in the real world of mental health care.
So, my advice is to be a strong voice in the discussion, but always remain respectful. As long as you are respectful of them, they will be respectful of you and more willing to listen. Write down what you want to say to them. It helps to keep your thoughts organized.