By Dania Douglas, NAMI State Advocacy Manager
|Flickr / Joe Shlabotnik|
It’s that time of year when various colored signs start popping up on lawns and medians across the country. Going to the farmers markets or getting on and off public transportation most likely means you’re going to be handed a pamphlet of sort. In other words, it’s election season. Political advertisements fill the radio airwaves and newspapers are bursting with election-related articles. So what does any of it have to do with mental health?
Each year elected officials make decisions related to health care, education, housing and employment that will directly impact the lives of people living with mental illness. Today’s candidates will become tomorrow’s elected officials, with the power to make important decisions. As voters concerned about mental health care, it is critical that we learn about issues, educate candidates about the importance of mental health, and use our votes to elect representatives that will help improve mental health care in this country.
There are a few important steps you can take to make sure you’re ready for Election Day! Check to make sure you are registered to vote. Make sure you know where to go to cast your vote on Election Day as local polling places can change. Make sure your voter ID is up to date.
Get to Know the Candidates
Do your homework. Listen to what candidates are saying about mental health. Better yet, ask questions. If you feel that candidates are not addressing important issues contact their campaign. Ask them about the issues that are most important to you. If you don’t know where to start, check out our materials for sample questions. Be ready to educate the candidates, to dispel myths or stereotypes, and to explain why mental health issues are so important. If you have a chance to meet with your candidate in person, take advantage of that opportunity. If not, email, call or write. Visit NAMI’s website for more important tips on talking with candidates.
Know Your Rights
Voting is a Constitutional right and the foundation of our democracy. People with mental illness should have full and equal access to polling places. Unfortunately, misinformation and misunderstanding about mental illness can lead to discrimination. However, there are numerous federal laws that help safeguard your right to vote. Learning about these laws can help you make sure your rights are protected. Voters with mental illness also have the right to have assistance on voting day.
If you need assistance with voting, federal law gives you the right to choose the person, such as a friend or family member, who will help you cast your ballot. In some states, people can be disqualified from voting if they have a guardian or have been declared incapacitated by a court of law. NAMI has created a guide to state laws that affect the voting rights of people with mental illness.
Election Day, Go Vote!
Nov. 4, 2014 is Election Day. Make sure you show up to the polls or find out how to cast an absentee ballot. Every vote counts. Your vote is your voice. Use it to tell candidates that mental health care matters!