Do you ever feel powerless in the face of mental health issues? Stigma, discrimination, and lack of resources —it can be overwhelming for any one person. But we do live in a democracy. We have the right not only to vote, but also to engage our legislators in issues that affect our lives. We have the right, and the power, of advocacy.
Imagine sharing with lawmakers how mental illness impacts your life. You would put a face to the issues. You could erase stigma and change minds. You could move your representative to take action. But how?
I invite you to join NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore on February 25th, 2016 for Advocacy Day.
Sound intimidating? Don’t worry. It’s all about being prepared. Here are three ways you can get ready for Advocacy Day:
1. Know the issues. The Behavioral Health Coalition, a group of more than forty organizations working to meet community mental health needs, supports the following legislative priorities:
- Increase access to care by supporting legislation to ensure a robust and high quality behavioral health workforce.
- Support access to crisis services on demand by enacting legislation establishing walk-in and mobile crisis capacity in every jurisdiction.
- Support the behavioral health provider rate increase in the budget and provide additional treatment resources to combat Maryland’s opioid epidemic.
For more details about the priorities, visit keepthedooropenmd.org.
2. Practice telling your story. NAMI’s SMARTS for Advocacy program has seven steps to tell your story effectively. To help demonstrate the steps, I will provide an example of my personal story.
- Introduce yourself.
Hi, I’m Rachel Christian, a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. As a person who lives with depression and has many loved ones affected by mental illness, I would like to share my story with you and ask for your support of mental health services.
- Tell what happened.
I knew from a young age that mental illness impacts my family. When I was five years old, my grandfather died after facing Bipolar Disorder for much of his life. As I grew, I watched several other family members struggle with depression. I did not admit to myself that I might have depression too until my first year of college, thousands of miles from home.
- Describe what helped or would have helped.
My doctor diagnosed me with Dysthymia, or Persistent Depressive Disorder. She prescribed me with antidepressants and recommended that I see a therapist regularly. But it wasn’t so easy. Since I was on my father’s insurance, I could only see providers in my home-state, Maine. As a student in Maryland, I could not see anyone while in school. I remember crying on the phone with my mom when I learned I would have to wait. Eventually, I attended therapy while I was home in Maine during the summer, and those sessions helped me recover substantially.
- Share how you are different today.
Today, I hardly notice my depression. I continue to take antidepressants every day. I have health insurance through my employer, and plan to start seeing a therapist in Maryland for the first time since moving here in 2012. I recently graduated and married my sweetheart. Effective treatment has helped me recover and live well.
- Mention the need or problem.
One in every five American adults experience mental illness, but not everyone gets the help they need. My grandfather didn’t, and because of that, I grew up without knowing him.
- Talk about what will help others.
A strong mental health system helps more people get the right care at the right time.
- Make a strong “ask.”
Thank you for meeting with me today and listening to my story. Can I count on you to increase access to crisis services and support the behavioral health provider rate increase?
These kinds of stories really can touch the hearts and minds of our legislators. It helps if you practice not only writing your story, but also sharing it out loud with others.
3. Attend NAMI Metro Baltimore’s Advocacy Networking and Training event on February 16th from 9am -11:30am. There you can connect with fellow advocates and practice telling your own story. To RSVP, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Never underestimate the power of one story. It might not change the world, but it might change one mind. If we all work together, I know that we can change many minds, and that will change our world for the better.
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