What is Systems Advocacy?

Systems advocacy is focused on change of systems. This includes areas such as collecting and using data to influence research, funding, and advocacy that helps serve to be a collective voice, especially for those who are most vulnerable. When I think of systems advocacy for mental health, the first word that immediately comes to my mind is NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI’s focus is to improve the lives of those affected by mental health.

People and organizations involved in systems advocacy are actively working towards change at the local and national levels such as providing local resources and advocating change in public policy. Some of policy areas NAMI works hard to improve include accessible, affordable, and comprehensive care to all. This includes individuals who are on commercial health insurance plans, Medicaid, and Medicare. Advocating to bring quality mental health care to people who are incarcerated, children/ young adults, and veterans is especially important in addition to access to effective medications for mental illness.

How Can I Become Involved in Systems Advocacy for Mental Health?

Here are some steps you can take:

1. Share Your Story.

There is power in sharing one’s personal story. Sharing one’s story can increase awareness of systemic change within the field of mental health. Information shared in personal narrative such as what was helpful (or harmful) can help implement change within the local, state, and federal government level. We need to take action against discrimination, denial of resources, and involvement in the criminal justice system that disproportionality impact people of color and other marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ+ community. Examples of harmful practices NAMI has worked hard to stop include conversion therapy and solitary confinement.

Consider sharing your experience during a mental health crisis, experiences with health care coverage/ ability to access mental health resources, or the impact of mental health during COVID-19.

Click here to share your story.

2. Join a Campaign.

Become involved with policy leaders and reach out to your governor or mayor to help recognize and prioritize mental health. There is a need to invest in research for mental health conditions. The brain is complex. More studies are needed to better aid in diagnosis and treatment for mental illness. Your voice can help influence policymakers. There is strength in numbers.

Click here to join the campaign for Congress to fund mental health research.

Click here to show your support for mental health and be alerted to opportunities to influence policymakers.

3. Engage with Your Community

Help include the voices of all within your community by addressing cultural barriers. Work to reduce stigma and create an inclusive environment where all feel welcome and are able to be heard and feel supported. Reach out to the teens to ensure they are represented and include community supports such as faith-based supports.

4. Partner with Local Businesses

Increase awareness within local businesses by sharing information about mental health, sharing resources that promote mental health wellness, and hosting events.

5. Volunteer with NAMI

If you are passionate about becoming a-leader-in-the-mental-health-movement and wanting to make a difference in systems change, consider volunteering with NAMI’s local office https://namimn.org/ or national office https://www.nami.org/Home. There are many ways to get involved.

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Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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