Our Voice and Choice

voteJust as consumers need a voice in treatment and providers use their voice to advocate for the people they serve, in this year’s election everyone’s voice and vote matters.  The rancor in this year’s election may make it difficult to learn about the candidate’s positions on key issues impacting consumers and providers. But since elected officials will have a great impact on behavioral health public policy in the future we need to know where they stand and influence their work.

There are a number of non-profit organizations involved in public policy and advocacy work that affect consumers, families, and providers. These groups are the perfect conduit for helping you engage in year’s election. They all have a common goal to shape policies that better support people struggling with behavioral health problems and have detailed issue information.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is one such organization which has the nation’s largest grassroots mental health network with hundreds of members nationwide and chapters in every state.  We asked Andrew Sperling, NAMI’s Director of Legislative Advocacy, a few questions about his thoughts regarding the consumer and family member community getting out to vote and NAMI’s public policy priorities in 2017.

Andrew Sperling, NAMI’s Director of Legislative Advocacy

Regardless of who wins the election, what will NAMI’s main policy focus be in 2017 and what issues do you think will take center stage and could make the most material impact on the availability of treatment to consumers and families?

NAMI anticipates having a robust federal policy agenda in 2017.  One major area will be advancing research and innovation through efforts to increase funding for mental illness research and reauthorizing the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA).  In order to see newer and better treatments for serious mental illness, we have to ensure that NIH is adequately funded and the FDA has the tools to approve new therapies quickly and efficiently.

Is there any particular legislation or policy in the works that could influence the adoption of technology to deliver or facilitate treatment for consumers?

NAMI is currently pushing for the legislation Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016 (H.R. 2646) and The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 (S. 2680) in Congress that would enact important reforms to the public mental health system.  Efforts are underway to ensure that these reforms include changes to an obscure federal rule (known as 42 CFR Part 2) that is a substantial barrier to sharing of data related to mental illness and substance use disorder treatment.  We need to reform outdated rules that were put in place when systems relied on paper records.

NAMI has urged its members to register to vote, can you say a few words about the importance of consumers and their families getting out to vote on Election Day.

It is axiomatic that political leaders are always more responsive to citizens that vote than those that do not.  Equally as important to voting is active engagement with members of Congress and other elected officials by direct contact through mail, phone calls, social media and in-person meetings.  As a 501c organization, NAMI cannot endorse candidates for office.  However, NAMI can (and does) encourage our members to participate in the political process.

Early voting is happening right now and absentee ballots are being sent in as we speak. If people with serious mental illness haven’t gotten absentee ballots or arranged to vote early, what can they do to get to the polls? Are there certain resources available to request help to vote?

There is a broad range of resources out there to assist people in getting to the polls.  Early voting is a probably the best way to avoid long lines on November 8.  As a proud member of the larger disability community, NAMI also supports resources available to help people with disabilities protect their voting rights.  Our friends at AAPD have a terrific website to help.

You can find out more about how to vote and the requirements for your state check out www.iwillvote.com. Also check out NAMI’s public policy priorities which promote creating better access to treatment for better outcomes, more research, and mental health parity.

After the election and throughout the year you can participate in NAMI awareness events, go to their annual convention, share your story and much more. Go to the NAMI’s get involved section of their website.  Collectively we can make a difference.

Author: Kristin Battista-Frazee

Marketing consultant, writer and social worker.

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