December 08, 2015

By Jessica W. Hart

US Map - State Mental Health Budgets Fiscal Year 2015-2016Every single day people are battling towards recovery from mental health conditions for themselves or their loved ones. Every. Single. Day. Fortunately, NAMI is here to help. We reach out and lend a hand in communities around the country through support groups, education and presentation programs.

This is where you can talk with friends and your NAMI family about what is going on in your life and find understanding and support. Sometimes, this conversation can shift to the challenges that you face when trying to find services and supports for yourself or a loved one.

Are you having trouble getting safe, affordable housing? Is your daughter showing early signs of psychosis, but you can’t find services? Is your son in jail, not getting any treatment and has been put in solitary confinement? Are you struggling to find an inpatient bed for your significant other? Do you even have access to mental health professionals or is your closest psychiatrist six hours away?

Here is where NAMI advocates pick up the ball. Advocates see the broken system and challenges that are preventing people from getting the help they need and ask, “How can I make it better? What can we as a community, state or country do to fix what I see going wrong?” Then they work hard to change it.

You have the power to be a NAMI advocate.

All you need is your voice and the fire inside to make the system better for yourself, your loved ones and your NAMI family. For you, our newest NAMI advocate, we have a new report on state legislation that you can use to make the mental health system in your state better.

Look at the map above. See whether your state is investing more money—or less—into your mental health system. If you don’t like what you see, look up your state elected officials and call, email and tweet them. Ask them to increase the mental health budget when the state legislature comes back into session. Tell them you are a voting constituent. Explain what it would mean to you or your family member for them to make the commitment to invest in the mental health budget.

Did some of the situations above where people couldn’t get the care they need sound familiar? The good news is that some states saw those challenges and took up the banner to advocate for better services and supports and succeeded. You can succeed, too, by taking what these states have already done and giving it to your local elected official to introduce as a bill in your state.

Five bills stood out to NAMI, and you have a role to make them a reality across the country.


How many people do you know in your community with mental illness who cannot find safe, affordable housing? Housing is a cornerstone of recovery for people with mental illness, yet, on average, the rent for a studio apartment rent exceeds 90% of disability income. Arizona created a housing trust fund for rental assistance to people with serious mental illness through HB 2488. If housing is something you are passionate about, take this piece of legislation to your local elected official.

First Episode Psychosis Programs

Are you interested in making sure that people with early psychosis get the services they need? You can help by getting your state to join the investment in evidence-based practices. Leading research shows that early intervention through First Episode Psychosis (FEP) programs enables young people to manage psychosis and get on with their lives. Minnesota enhanced federal dollars through the passage of SF 1458 which supports evidence-based FEP programs.

Criminal Justice and Mental Health

Do you think it is horrible that 2 million people with mental illness are currently in jail instead of getting services they need in the community or hospital? You can help rectify this injustice in your state by looking to states like Utah. Utah passed a bill (HB 348) that requires the state departments of corrections and mental health to collaborate on providing mental health treatment to inmates, developing alternatives to incarceration and implementing graduated sanctions and incentives.

Psychiatric Inpatient Beds

Do you think that your state doesn’t have a good enough system or a system at all for tracking psychiatric inpatient beds? You should look to Virginia. Finding a psychiatric bed in a crisis is challenging. As a result, people with mental illness are often boarded in emergency departments for exceptionally long periods. Lack of information on the availability of psychiatric beds throughout a state is often part of the problem. Virginia HB 2118 requires all public and private facilities to report psychiatric inpatient and crisis stabilization beds at least once daily.


Is your policy issue the shortage of mental health professionals? Washington State is trying to fix this common problem. Nationwide, there is an acute shortage of mental health professionals. Telehealth can make mental health expertise more available to underserved communities using readily available technology. However, challenges in reimbursement have resulted in underuse of this valuable resource. Washington’s bill (SB 5175) defines telemedicine as a reimbursable service for the purposes of diagnosis, consultation or treatment.

Use the report as a tool to help drive policies and investments that will improve your state mental health system. Look for the gold stars in the policy issues that you care about. Call, email and tweet your elected official to get them on board.

Together as NAMI advocates we can build a movement to help transform the mental health system in America.

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