Taking a Stand for Civic Engagement this Mental Health Month
May is Mental Health Month—31 days dedicated to raising awareness for, and breaking down stigma against, the tens of millions of Americans who will experience a mental health or substance use disorder each year.
Throughout the month, we have shared information about how policymakers can improve America’s mental health and addiction care systems by investing in prevention, prioritizing access to affordable treatments, and by strengthening recovery services and supports. While these reforms are urgent, history has proven that policymakers are unlikely to give them the attention they deserve.
If we truly believe it’s time for Mental Health for US, then we need to make sure the mental health and addiction community is engaged and makes our voices heard in upcoming elections.
The value of advocacy and civic engagement
The most effective way to make a change in your community is to stand up, practice your constitutional right to vote, and make your voice heard. As our friend Thomas Jefferson said, “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” So, let’s participate! By being an advocate for mental health and addiction, you are actively setting an example for others and providing them an outlet to better understand the issues facing our community.
Advocating for something you believe in can take many forms, including writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, utilizing social media to share new ideas or stats, or encouraging your local community to practice their constitutional right to vote. Americans have a right and a responsibility to participate in our democracy – the easiest tool we have to do that is voting!
Voting in elections
While we don’t know the full impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on this year’s election, many experts believe we’re at risk of lower voter turnout than in years past. Given the fact that people living with mental illness and addiction (as with other disenfranchised communities) are already less likely to participate in elections, we can’t afford to cede any ground.
To those who may be skeptical about voting, it is important to consider the benefits of participating in elections.
- Community: By participating in an election, we are joining neighbors to take a stand for issues you believe in. Elections can give us a sense of belonging that make us feel like we are a part of something greater than ourselves.
- Civic engagement: Elections are a way to engage with the civic culture—the institutions that make up our daily lives. Consider elections not as one election, but as thousands of local elections held by every community in the country at the same time. These events allow us to connect to the people around us.
- Expression: Elections are a means of individual expression. The First Amendment is one of the most valued American rights. Elections are a key mechanism to practice our individual agency and express ourselves.
While voting is critical, a substantial barrier to the ballot box is the complexity of the registration process. Learning more about how to become a registered voter in your state is an important step of becoming a better advocate for mental health and addiction – not only for yourself, but for your friends and neighbors as well.
Getting involved in civic engagement
Before taking action to educate others on the voting process, brushing up on our election knowledge will allow you to be more prepared to register yourself and answer any questions that may pop-up during your conversations with others.
There are plenty of resources to help you make sure you’re registered to vote, and even help others along the way! The Fair Elections Center has a comprehensive guide to the voter registration policies and procedures in each state – it is important to refer to your state’s guide before engaging in voter registration activities. If your state does not offer a robust online voter registrations system, Vote.org is a good resource to check on registration deadlines around the country. To explore remote voting options, this resource also has a state-by-state guide to the policies and procedures that govern mail-in voting.
Even if your state’s laws on mail-in ballots are restrictive, you shouldn’t let COVID-19 stand in the way between you and the ballot box this November! If you do have to vote in person, try to go to the polls during a time of day when there are fewer crowds and lines—often this will be early morning or mid-afternoon. You can also check to see if your state offers early voting periods – Voto Latino has a great list of all the states that offer this important service. As in all public spaces, make sure you practice social distancing while standing in line and interacting with other voters and poll workers and wash your hands before and after voting. You can also call your election administrator ahead of time to see if they offer curb-side voting.
Before you fill out your ballot, make sure you take some time to educate yourself about where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to you. The non-partisan resources below are some of the best tools available to help you and others make an informed decision this November.
- VOTE411 lets you type in your address to see where candidates running for office in your community stand on the issues. You can also learn more about the initiatives that will be on your ballot come November.
- Project Vote Smart will give you information about your representatives, including biographies, voting records, issue positions, and campaign contributions.
- Mental Health for US asked presidential candidates where they stand on issues addressing mental illness and addiction. Visit our website to see what they had to say.
Above all, it’s important to remember that voting doesn’t have a party. Any effort to educate your friends and neighbors on the importance of voting is most effective when it’s motivated not by partisan alignment, but by a genuine interest in ensuring they have the tools they need to make their voices hear. Communities with high voter-turnout, regardless of party, report as having greater overall well-being, as well as higher amounts of resources and attention from elected officials.
Make sure you visit our website to check your voter registration status, register to vote, pledge to vote, sign up for election reminders, and help your friends do the same.
Take a stand for mental health
With one in five American adults living with a mental illness, and one in 12 living with addiction, the time for comprehensive mental health and addiction reform is long overdue. Throughout Mental Health Month, we have shared more information about our policy platform to explore how policymakers can change the way we care for people living with mental health and addiction. However, if we want transformational change that truly changes our care systems, we need to stand united and take action!
Voting in this year’s election isn’t enough – we need to make sure our friends, family, and neighbors are empowered to do the same. Take the WEVOTE pledge today and commit to helping five friends register to vote before November!
Mental Health for US is a nonpartisan, educational initiative focused on elevating mental health and addiction to national policy conversations by empowering grassroots advocates and improving candidate and policymaker health literacy. The Mental Health for US coalition is comprised of 95+ organizations from around the country dedicated to uniting the American people to make systemic, long-term change with civic engagement tools and resources. For more information, visit www.mentalhealthforus.net.
Exercise your constitutional rights and pledge to help five friends register to vote before the November elections! #WEVOTE