Putting Myself to Work: Mental Health Advocacy

It only makes sense to share with you some of my experience at the Mental Health America conference that I just attended in Washington, D.C. but I have to admit a million and one things are swirling through this little head of mine right now. I’ll start with the conference and one of the most valuable opportunities I had and see where it takes me.

Possibly the most important experience I had as a health activist at the conference was the opportunity to visit with state representatives (actually their staff) to discuss important policies regarding mental health. I’ve always had a desire in my heart to take my activism to the politicians, but honestly, I’ve been intimidated. I have the knowledge of the average American when it comes to our political system and sadly, that’s not enough to feel confident to set appointments and feel prepared. But now, after I’ve been exposed, I feel more confident and more passionate than ever to get it together and find a way to get in front of our policy makers.

In our visits on “the hill” I accompanied some very knowledgeable and experienced mental health advocates from Mental Health America. They knew the drill, who to see, what policies and bills needed to be addressed and what needed to be said. I, only the other hand, had the chance to put some personal experience and real life circumstance behind the political talk. I shared my experience with mental health issues, the ways in which these policies would affect or could have effected my life positively if they were in place, and I shared the  need for the implementation of bills that need additional support.

One such policy that we spoke about, among others, is the Mental Health in Schools Act of 2011 (H.R. 751). This bill would expand the availability of school based mental health services for children across the United States. Our children’s mental health is vital to their education and ability to succeed in school. To ignore their mental health is like ignoring their dietary needs, yet sadly, it is still suffers. I was able to share my own personal need for access to mental health services for my children and how our school has not been able to help us at all, leaving my kids in the lurch.

My son is currently in need of help and assessment for symptoms that look like possible ADHD-inattentive type, but really we do not know what is going on. When I have approached the school for help, their answer was, “we have nothing to offer you”. Because of state assistance, my son is finally able to have health insurance, but an appointment with behavioral health is not available until the end of September. The problems and issues have been going on for months and he will have already begun the new school year by the time we get him in for the beginning of the assessment process.

The importance of policies like the one I mentioned above is directly related to the livelihood and health of our children, including mine. Other policies we worked to support affect our soldiers, the general population and again our children.  Unfortunately, without the help of our government, like them or not, these issues cannot be addressed and given the attention they deserve. Financial concerns are greater than ever and unfortunately the first things to go are social services, which cannot be tolerated. Our nation’s health and wellness should be of paramount concern to a government who needs it people in order to come back from a recession and economic downturn such as what we are experiencing.

If I can be of help and support in this process, then I believe it’s important for me to continue to come to the plate, even if I don’t know “exactly” the right ways to do it. I can learn along the way, and guess what, so can you! Check out the information on Mental Health America’s website about the policies we lobbied for and tips on how to do so yourself.

I can think of no greater privilege than to have had this opportunity to advocate for our nation and the mental health issues that we so greatly need addressed.

3 thoughts on “Putting Myself to Work: Mental Health Advocacy

  1. Amy,

    What I learned in my “representative government 101” experience earlier this year was that many of the state representatives were eager to speak with me, to hear my personal take on their work. They expressed a need for education on many of the topics that they legislate, and explained that (most of the time), that need is met (kind of) by lobbyists. Did you know that any citizen who is not a lobbyist can go to the doorkeeper on the House floor in Jefferson City and ask him/her to pull any representative out of session? I didn’t either. It was a powerful experience.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Your post has hit me hard. I found MHA’s website in the days after my mentally ill friend’s recent death – I was looking for a chapter near our city and found none. Maybe if policies were different and education and support for families didn’t get pushed “to the end of September” he wouldn’t be dead. I’ve had my own struggles with trying to get help, and I have private insurance! The system is so broken. Thank you for giving back and I wish you well on learning more about how to do this.

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