How to Help Influence Mental Health Policy
Mental health issues have been worsening at every single age group over the past five years, and the issues spiked even more during the COVID-19 pandemic that brought with it a whirlwind of uncertainty and fear. One of the many reasons for these increases is the fact that a stigma still exists about mental health that makes it difficult for people to talk about, and ultimately get help for.
During the pandemic, polls taken revealed that almost half of adults reported struggles with mental health or substance abuse at some point during the tenure of quarantine. Mental health policies in America are very diverse and very different from workplace to workplace and municipality to municipality.
Seeing the Issue
Before influencing policy, you must first make the issues known. Sharing statistics about the frequency at which mental health issues go untreated can serve a twofold purpose in the area you’re aiming to influence. First, it makes those individuals who are not up to speed on the issues see how serious and abundant they are, and second, it will also make some of those untreated patients realize that they may have a mental illness.
Statistics show that the average time that mental illness goes untreated in a given patient is more than a decade, and that in and of itself is a staggering statistic. Generally speaking there are 5 main signs of mental illness, and they are:
- Excessive paranoia, worry, or anxiety
- Long-lasting sadness or irritability
- Extreme changes in mood
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns
By educating your community on these signs, you allow them to see issues in others, as well as themselves.
Influencing Government Policy
Mental health policy is aplenty at the national level, and the house and senate vote frequently on issues related to mental health coverage in government healthcare, as well as legislature related to private insurance having to provide mental health services. Influence on this level involves a lot of American dollars, but local policy is a battle much more manageable.
Creating heightened awareness with some of the things mentioned in the last section is a great start, and further educating yourself on legislation in other areas can help further your message. There are also many online resource to empower people looking to influence mental health legislation, and one of the most prominent is called NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Health.
NAMI provides information on bills at the national level that influence changes, and also provides resources to use to encourage (and create) policy at your local offices. These include laws regarding public healthcare, as well as laws that would require private healthcare to provide mental health services.
Influencing Policy in the Workplace
Again, advocacy starts with awareness, and starting a small initiative to educate and train staff on the signs and symptoms of mental health should be your first step. It is also just as important to convince those in authoritative positions to encourage their subordinates to be open about their own mental health. In addition, those individuals in positions of power should be doubly wary of their own mental health, as slips in work at the top often lead to slips in work among the entirety of a workforce.
Encouraging individuals to seek help for their mental health issues is much easier if your company offers mental evaluations as part of their insurance plan. If they do not, your battle is a bit more difficult, but will make bigger differences when won, and statistics are on your side. Those who feel like their employers care about their mental health tend to perform better, and a policy regarding mental health in insurance is a good way to prove that care.
Just as policy begins with advocacy, it also evolves with continued advocacy. Speak up when you see issues not being resolved correctly, and encourage everyone in your workplace or community to be open and unafraid when speaking about their own mental health.