By Mary Giliberti, J.D.
There’s an old saying: "Never talk politics at the dinner table.”
NAMI takes that adage seriously, as we are strictly non-partisan, welcoming people from all parties into our movement. Our issues affect Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians and Green families alike. That’s because mental illness can strike anyone at any time. It does not discriminate.
While we don’t talk partisan politics, we do talk about policies and explore mental health issues which are important to us. We need to learn about where candidates from every political party stand on issues and engage with them—as well as with friends and neighbors and others in our communities. Politely, of course, but passionately. Listening, learning, seeking to educate and finding common ground.
The issues we raise include:
We strongly encourage advocacy. In the 2016 elections, we want everyone to #Act4MentalHealth using the information and tools provided on www.nami.org/elections. We want you to advocate for mental health on every level—federal, state and local. Although it’s a big presidential election year, let’s not forget the importance of advocating with state legislators and mayors.
Although NAMI is non-partisan, we know that many members of our community are not. That can work to our advantage in maintaining communication and raising awareness among leaders with different, competing points of views, although we always emphasize that NAMI’s name cannot be used to promote or support any candidate or party.
We also remind everyone that no party has a lock on good solutions to the many challenges our country faces in mental health care. When Congress passes mental health legislation, the bills have bipartisan sponsors and receive bipartisan support. I often like to say: “NAMI is a non-partisan organization in search of bipartisan solutions.”
We try to build bridges. For example, we supported educational events at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions this past month.
During the Republican convention in Cleveland, NAMI Ohio organized a mental health awareness event, “Out of the Shadows,” funded by the Margaret Morgan Clark Foundation. It featured people affected by mental illness and policymakers.
Loree Vick, whose husband died by suicide, told attendees: “Don’t waste your pain,” urging us to use our experiences to help others. I spoke after Loree, saying: “We have suffered too much loss. Mental illness is as lethal as cancer or heart disease.” I also noted that mental illness is the public health issue of our time.
I had an opportunity at the event to ask policy questions of the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. He talked about the importance of family caregivers and the need for criminal justice reforms.
Gingrich compared mental health care today to car maintenance. He said the system won’t pay for an inexpensive oil change, but ends up footing a much bigger bill to replace the engine when it is damaged because the oil wasn’t changed.
The following week, at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, the Scattergood Foundation, the Kennedy Forum and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health organized a “Like Minded” rally to raise awareness of mental health and addiction issues.
Barbara Ricci, a member of the NAMI National and New York City Metro Boards of Directors, spoke about mental health in the workplace, noting that “the number one reason for disability in the workplace is depression” and “access to affordable quality mental health care is an election issue.” She was joined by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and others. I met with mental health advocates in a smaller meeting on advancing mental health parity.
As the country moves into the last months before Election Day, we all must be aggressive in educating ourselves on the positions of candidates. Please check their campaign websites and listen to speeches up and down the ballot. If their position on mental health care is unclear, ask them and keep asking—if not in person, then at campaign events or through their websites and social media. It’s important to know where each party stands on treatment, funding, addiction and other issues related to mental health. NAMI has gone through the Republican and Democratic Party platforms and pulled out key mental health stances from each side. You can find that information here.
After Election Day, NAMI will meet with newly elected officials to press our agenda, but laying the groundwork now is key. If they hear about mental health on the campaign trail, they will remember our issues as a constituent priority. Every candidate should know that NAMI expects them to #Act4MentalHealth.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
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