Educate Candidates

Talking to candidates prior to an election can help you determine where they stand on the issues you care about and whether they are mental health champions. Once elected, these individuals will represent you – so it is important that you know their views. 

Below are some tips for educating and engaging candidates:

  1. Always keep it nonpartisan. NAMI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. We take stances on policy issues, not parties or politicians. If you are holding a candidate event, invite all candidates for the position (and not just Democrats and Republicans if Independents or candidates from other parties are running).
  2. Seek out the candidates. In the weeks leading up to an election, candidates attend many events to meet and talk with constituents. Events such as walks, festivals and other community activities are a good opportunity to engage them in conversations about the issues.
  3. Bring the candidates to you. Hosting a candidate forum is a great opportunity to engage candidates and talk to them about issues related to mental health services and supports in your community. Click here to learn more about hosting a candidate forum. You may also invite candidates to other events, but be sure to follow these rules when doing so.  
  4. Introduce the candidates to NAMI/your local organization. When speaking with a candidate, make sure you introduce yourself and NAMI. For example, you can say, “I am [name] from [city, town or county you live in] and I’m a member of NAMI [local affiliate name], part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We are the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.”
  5. Share your story, if you comfortable doing so. How your personal experience with mental illness has affected you or a loved one makes issues real to candidates. Your story helps build a personal connection with candidates and helps them remember their interaction with you.
  6. Highlight priorities with candidates. Find ways to highlight key policy priorities with candidates. To do so, ask open-ended questions like, “What will you do to protect mental health coverage?” or “What will you do to increase the availability of mental health services and supports in our community?” Listen carefully to their answers and acknowledge the points that they made. They may ask for your ideas, so be ready to share additional thoughts.
  7. Use social media for additional candidate engagement. You can also use social media to engage candidates on the issues. Below are sample social media posts that you can use. These questions can also be asked in-person and at candidate forums.
    • [candidate name/handle] New policies threaten protections for people w/ pre-existing conditions, including mental illness. What will you do to protect mental health coverage, so all people can get the care they need, when they need it? #Act4MentalHealth
    • [candidate name/handle] Nearly 45,000 American lives are lost every year to suicide. What will you do to increase mental health services and support services in our community to help prevent these tragedies? #Act4MentalHealth
    • [candidate name/handle] It takes ~74 weeks in the U.S. to get care after first experiencing symptoms of psychosis. In the U.K., it  is just ~7 weeks. What will you do to help get young people to the care they need sooner? #Act4MentalHealth
    • [candidate name/handle] The #1 reason children <18 are admitted to hospitals is for depression or bipolar disorder. What will you do to help children get the mental health care they need before they reach a crisis point? #Act4MentalHealth
    • [candidate name/handle] 2M Americans living w/ mental illness are jailed each year, often because they simply didn’t get needed treatment. What will you do to end the jailing of people w/ mental illness? #Act4MentalHealth
    • [candidate name/handle] Jail is costly compared to community-based mental health treatment. In Detroit, a person w/ mental illness in jail costs $31,000/year, while community-based treatment costs only $10,000. What will you do to divert people with mental illness away from jail and into community-based treatment? #Act4MentalHealth
  8. Thank candidates for their time. After events or opportunities with candidates, thank them for their time with an email or thank you card, or even a tweet, restating your key points.  
  9. Do not endorse candidates. As a nonprofit organization, NAMI cannot endorse candidates. Keep your activities focused on engaging the candidates on issues. Do not show favor toward one candidate or another. For more information, click here.
  10. Build a plan for post-election connection. Once the elections are over, build relationships with newly elected (or reelected) officials. Find time to congratulate them on their win and schedule a meeting with them and their staff to share how NAMI can be a resource to their office and their constituents.

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