Brandon Graham headshotGuest blog by Brandon Graham, Senior Manager, Advocate Engagement for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He collaborates with the Alliance’s state and local leaders to engage grassroots mental health advocates, including shepherding NAMI’s get-out-the-vote efforts (Vote4MentalHealth). Prior to joining NAMI, Brandon worked on various political campaigns and as a U.S. Senate staffer. He resides with his wife in Arlington, VA.

America is facing a growing mental health crisis. From coastal cities to rural towns, people are struggling to access mental health care. Many communities lack the resources that people with mental health conditions need to get and stay healthy. That’s all before considering the additional administrative, bureaucratic or stigmatizing hoops one must jump through to receive the right treatment at the right time.

But recent developments have thrust the shortcomings of our mental health system into the spotlight. Across the country, there’s a growing need for mental health services and supports, further illuminating the need for action from our policymakers. Mental health is no longer an issue that can be overlooked. Regardless of political parity, mental health is front and center for voters and candidates—right where it should be. 

. . . it’s important for voters to understand how each level of government affects the availability of mental health care in their community

For decades, NAMI has worked diligently to elevate mental health into the election year conversation. As America’s largest grassroots mental health organization, NAMI has 48 state organizations and over 600 affiliates in communities across the country. NAMIs are leaders in their respective communities and the Alliance serves an essential role for people with mental health conditions and their loved ones. That role includes issue advocacy to improve the mental health system, but also extends to engaging candidates to build lasting relationships and educating voters about how they can impact mental health at the ballot box.

Time and time again, polls show likely voters are inspired to act based on some constant issues: the economy, health care, education, criminal justice, and affordable housing. What voters may not realize is how those issue areas intersect with mental health—and that’s where our Vote4MentalHealth campaign comes in. It’s essential that people understand how their votes ultimately impact people with mental health conditions—whether they’re living with a mental health condition, are a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a neighbor. 

Beyond the issues themselves, it’s important for voters to understand how each level of government affects the availability of mental health care in their community. From Congress to the statehouse to the city council, the people we elect make decisions daily that impact people with mental health conditions. Recognizing the role each official—whether it’s the local sheriff or a United States Senator—plays in getting people the right care at the right time highlights the importance of their vote.

That’s why we’re revamping our efforts to engage our Alliance and voters who are new to mental health as an election year issue—in 2020 and beyond. There will be new resources to learn where candidates stand on the issues, new communications with information on how and when to register or vote, and of course—new graphics and swag to share the message far and wide. We’re working with Nonprofit VOTE to ensure NAMI leaders have the tools and information readily available to take their voter engagement to the next level. We’re also excited that 2020 is NAMI’s first time as a premier partner for National Voter Registration Day, aiming to promote voter registration among new and underrepresented voters. 

Our mental health system is struggling to meet the growing need. The people we elect to positions in every corner of our government hold the power to change this unfortunate reality. Voters can send a resounding message when casting their ballot that mental health matters.

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