Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Are You Registered to Vote for Mental Health?

By Sita Diehl, NAMI Director of State Policy and Advocacy

Today is National Voter Registration Day, meaning there are only a few weeks left for you to register to vote in the 2012 elections.

In the 2008 elections, six million Americans did not vote because they didn’t know how to register or missed the deadline. Far too many people living with mental illness were among them. Their voices weren’t heard.

As an American citizen and mental health advocate who believes in recovery and resiliency from mental illness, I’m doing my part to increase the mental health vote. How about you?

NAMI’s nonpartisan Mental Health Care Gets My Vote! campaign involves three action steps: 1) register to vote; 2) connect with candidates, and 3) make sure to vote!

It’s now only six weeks to Election Day. Early voting by absentee ballots will begin soon in many states. Time is of the essence.

Register to Vote

If you haven’t registered yet, or if you have changed your residence since the last time you voted, now is the time to do it. Becoming a registered voter is easy. You can do it online here, right now.

Voter registration deadlines are coming up within the next two weeks in many states.  Because deadlines fall on Columbus Day this year (Oct. 8) seven states require voter registration by COB on Friday, Oct. 6, 2012 and 15 states by COB on Tuesday, Oct. 9.

If you’re already registered, then help others sign up. Forms can be downloaded and mailed or submitted online to your local election commission.

Connect with Candidates

The Presidential race captures the headlines, but state legislators and Congressional legislators are the elected officials who pass laws and budgets that determine who gets what services – and at what cost. Soon after the election, your governor will make critical decisions on Medicaid and private health insurance, which your legislators will act on.

If you aren’t sure who is running, for local, state and federal offices in your area, you can find them at Project Vote Smart.

When you meet candidates on the campaign trail or attend a candidate forum, tell them that you care about mental health care issues and ask them what they think about them. See NAMI’s Mental Health Care Gets My Vote! website for ideas on questions to ask or statements to make (perfect for Tweeting). Learn how to meet with candidates and use NAMI’s Candidate Kit to help them understand why we care so deeply.  

Communication channels are wide open through candidate websites, Twitter, Face Book, blogs, radio talk shows or in candidate forums and campaign events.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Election campaigns are supposed to stimulate public dialogue on policy issues. As part of the discussion, everyone needs to know what Medicaid and other issues mean for mental health care and the future of our loved ones. If we don’t tell them, no one else will.

VOTE!

Just do it.

Don’t forget or decide at the last minute that you’re “too busy” on Election Day.

The 2012 elections are expected to be close in many states and at many levels. Outcomes will depend on voter turn-out.

Sign NAMI’s Voter Pledge. We’ll send you a quick reminder before Election Day so you’ll be ready to make your vote count. Because many voting districts have changed recently, please also make sure you have updated information on your polling place, hours of operation and voter ID requirements.  If you don’t like crowds or have transportation challenges many states allow early voting or absentee ballots.

If we want recovery from mental illness, we have to vote for recovery. Candidates across the political spectrum need to hear that mental health is important for Americans. We can each do our part by registering to vote, by connecting with our candidates stand on NAMI’s issues and by voting on or by Nov. 6, 2012.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Postpartum Anxiety and Depression: It Happened to Me

By Sarah Coon

When I had my baby boy six months ago I had no idea I was about to experience the most terrifying time in my life. It was a mental health crisis.

When my baby was 4 months old I began to feel scared all the time. I kept my kids inside all the time because I was afraid of what could happen while we were out. The fear then began to escalate to terror very quickly! I took it out on my 3 year old by irrationally screaming at him all the time.

When I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, I had my first panic attack in the middle of a family dinner. My hands were shaking, my heart was racing, and I really thought I was about to die. This is when I knew I needed to get help.

It took me a miserable week full of panic attacks to get up the courage to call my doctor, but when I finally got in to see her she frightened me even more. She told me that I probably didn’t have postpartum anxiety or depression because my baby was already 4 months old.

That same night I really began to lose it, panicking to the point of rushing off to the emergency room (ER) fearing that something was really wrong with me. The ER doctor told me that I had postpartum anxiety for sure and that it was possible to get it up to a year after you have your baby. After being prescribed Zoloft and being sent home I felt relieved to finally know what was happening to me, but that relief didn’t last long.

I spent that weekend making numerous trips to the ER with thoughts of suicide and the concern that I might hurt my kids. It was terrifying because I had never in my life had thoughts like this before. I was analyzed over and over again by mental health professionals and, by the end of the weekend, was begging them to take me to a psychiatric unit. They refused, stating that I wasn’t “psychiatric material.” The ER doctor determined that the Zoloft was not working for me and told me to make an appointment with my doctor on Monday.

After explaining my ordeal to my doctor that Monday he elected to put me on Celexa and Ativan. Within hours I was feeling slightly better. From then on my condition has been steadily improving and I have been seeing a mental health counselor and a therapist regularly.

Now that I have come out of the darkness I am angry at how little help there is for women going through this. My sister and I created an online support group on Facebook called “Postpartum Anxiety Support Group.” If you are a woman and feel like you may be experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression, I urge you to please see your doctor. You can also join our support group or contact Postpartum Support International.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Latinos, Mental Health Care and the American Dream

By MaJose Carrasco, Director, NAMI Multicultural Action Center

Last month I celebrated my 16th anniversary of moving to the United States. I have now lived almost half of my life here.

I still remember the day I came to this country. In one day of travel I went from Quito, Ecuador to Kirksville, Mo. I went from living in a city of more than a million people to a rural town of 15,000 and from 9,000 feet above sea level to 965 feet.

I was 17 years old. I had just graduated from high school and I could not wait to start my college experience. To be honest, I never thought I would stay here beyond my college years. But here I am.

I am one of the more than 50 million Latinos who live in this country. My story is just one of the many of people who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. We have come for many different reasons: fleeing wars and revolutions, seeking better economic opportunities, to advance our education and looking for a better future for our families.

Do these reasons sound familiar?

Like many who came before us—Germans, Irish, Italians and others—Latinos have come looking for the American Dream. In the process we have enriched and strengthened America through our backgrounds and our experiences. The road that brought as here may be different in some ways, but at the end, we have all come to love and become part of this great nation.

We share the same challenges as others—and in some cases additional ones. Mental illness is no exception. Latinos have similar rates of mental illness as the nation’s overall population. However, we face additional barriers to mental health care. Many studies underscore significant disparities in access and quality of mental health treatment.

MaJose Carrasco, Director of NAMI's Multicultural Action Center

Latinos, no matter their socio-economic status, receive some of the worst mental health care in our society. Imagine for a moment the bad, broken and convoluted mental health system that your own families have navigated. Now imagine it being much, much worst. That’s what my community faces.

This is one of the reason Latinos have joined NAMI: to help change this unacceptable reality. We have joined NAMI to help our community and to provide others the help and support they need to recover. We have joined NAMI to advocate for equality in access and quality of care and to improve care for everyone. Will you join us too?

Thankfully NAMI has created many resources both for Latinos and people working to engage our community. Our common experiences give us common cause.

Editor’s Note: Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. This year’s theme is “Many Backgrounds, Many Stories, One American Spirit”

 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mental Health: The Importance of Voting

By Zach D. Edgerton

Being a person living with mental illness, I know the importance of voting.

Legislators and politicians have an important stake in the quality of life for those of us with mental illness.  Between now and Election Day, Nov. 6, let’s show them clearly that mental health care gets our votes.

There was a time when I was severely ill, not being able to function at anything. I would lie in my bed all day, barely leaving my house. I couldn’t go to school or work. I had no social life. I was scared, isolated and discouraged. I needed help.

Legislators and politicians have a strong influence on whether or not a person with mental illness recovers. Legislators and politicians make laws and determine the amount of spending for mental health care. Much of this funding is directed towards Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security income and Social Security Disability Insurance programs.

Without the funding for Medicaid, I would not have been able to afford the hospitalizations that I needed to restore my mental health. After my hospitalizations, I needed counseling and medication.

Without the funding for Assertive Community Team (ACT) services through Medicaid, I would have never been able to access my needed therapy. Without the funding for Medicare, I couldn’t have been able to afford my medications, which initiated remarkable progress of my mental health.

Without the Social Security Income program and the Social Security Disability Insurance program, I would have been unable to afford to live when I was so ill that I could not work.

Legislators and politicians have also influenced mental health parity, which makes it mandatory that mental health coverage in health insurance plans is no more limited than primary health care. Clearly, this was essential to recovering and having a greater hope for my future.

Legislators and politicians have influence on funding for research on mental illness and housing for those struggling with mental illness. Research leads to innovations in state of the art medications. Housing has always been important to me, being integrated into the community and asserting my independence in society.

I fear to think of where I would be without the needed funding for mental health care. Mental illness left untreated commonly results in unemployment, social isolation, homelessness and incarceration.

Though there is no cure for mental illness, recovery is always available to people living with the challenge of mental illness. Today I can say that I have been employed, graduated from high school and college, lived in the community, and have a bright future. Without proper mental health care funding, none of this would have been a possibility.

It is important that people with mental illness vote. Legislators and politicians have a great influence on the possibility of recovery that everyone struggling with mental illness deserves and is entitled to.

Zach Edgerton is a member of NAMI Michigan, the NAMI Consumer Council Advocacy Committee and the NAMI Restraint and Seclusion Committee.