By definition, advocacy is “the act of speaking, writing or acting in support of something or someone.” “Speaking out” doesn’t have to mean giving a speech — it can also mean writing a letter, sending an email, participating in a meeting, showing up to a rally. There are many ways to make our voices heard!
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Everyone who experiences mental illness deserves the right mental health services and supports at the right time. With those key supports in place, recovery is possible. To make that happen, we have to let elected officials, the media and the general public know what’s needed.
Working with individual lawmakers (For all practical purposes, these terms mean the same thing: lawmakers = policymakers = legislators) and lawmaking (legislative) bodies to gain support for your cause or initiative, for the needs of a specific population, for an organization or group of organizations, or for specific services.
LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY VS. INDIVIDUAL ADVOCACY
Individual advocacy is helping someone navigate a particular situation, whereas legislative advocacy is an ongoing process of working to improve the policies that affect those situations. There are many activities that go into that process.
This analogy is helpful in making the distinction between legislative and individual advocacy:
Imagine someone lost in a forest without a trail. You can go to them and guide them through the woods (individual advocacy). You can even give them a map to make the journey easier (individual advocacy). Or, you can work with others to create a path so that everyone finds their way (legislative advocacy or “systems change”).
Take the stigmafree Pledge
Mental health matters to everyone. Individuals, companies, organizations and others can all take the pledge to learn more about mental illness, to see a person for who they are and take action on mental health issues. Take the pledge and raise awareness.
- Learn about mental health—educate myself and others
- See the person not the illness—strive to listen, understand, tell my own story
- Take action—spread the word, raise awareness, make a difference
Share Your Story
It’s important for people living with mental health conditions to know that they are not alone. Sharing a story about your personal experiences with mental health challenges can help in your own recovery as well as provide encouragement and support to others with similar experiences. Telling your story can take several forms:
- Song lyrics
- Inspirational quotes
You have an authentic voice. You can make a difference for yourself and others by sharing your experiences and perspective. What has helped? What hasn’t? What has been most discouraging about your condition? What has given you hope? There are all sorts of things you know that other people want to know—you are not alone.
Let them know that they aren’t either.
Take Action on Public Policy Issues
Public policy makes a difference in the lives of both the people living with mental health conditions and the people in their lives. Changes in policy can mean better outcomes. Our advocacy efforts have led to many victories including:
- Securing better funding for research.
- Protecting access to treatments and services.
- Attaining mental health parity to ensure that mental illness is treated equally to physical illness in most insurance plans.
But we still have work to do, and we need your help. Learn about mental health advocacy. Talk to your neighbors, friends and family about why these issues are important. Visit the NAMI Advocacy Headquarters to add your voice to our advocacy efforts.
To learn more about NAMI’s stance on advocacy and public policy issues that affect adults and children living with mental illness and their families, read the NAMI Public Policy Platform (PDF).