Advocacy Is Important
Advocacy is especially important now because of the many legislative changes made to mental health services, social assistance, and other areas that impact the lives of people who use the mental health system. You don’t need special training to be an advocate. Anyone can do it. All you need is a passion for DBSA’s mission—to improve the lives of people living with mood disorders. Most of what a good advocate does is intuitive and grows out of a few basic principles. You just need to make the commitment.
Your voice makes a difference.
Decision-making centers around you, the voters. At some point in the legislative process, there will be one letter or one call that breaks the camel’s back and affects change. And while your letter may not be the straw that breaks the camel's back, it may make the last straw possible.
Think about it as if you were a legislator who just won an election.
- You leave your home state, go to Washington, and suddenly find yourself voting on issues a range of issues, including taxation, trade, defense, housing, education, highway construction, healthcare, and pension benefits, all while hearing absolutely nothing from your constituents who are entrusting you to represent them.
- You are overwhelmed by the amount of issues, by advocates lobbying for issues you have never heard of, and by groups working their own agenda. You are trying to figure out where you stand.
- You quickly realize you can’t cover everything by yourself. The only way to stay on top of the things that are important to your constituents is for them to tell you what's important.
If we don’t speak up and communicate with our legislators, we won’t get what we need out of the policymaking process.
I just don’t have the time.
Most of us don’t have a lot of extra time. But if we, as patients, don’t speak out for our own rights on issues such as insurance discrimination, who will speak for us? On some issues, it takes as little as five letters or phone calls to tilt a representative’s decision making process one way or the other.
I won't make a difference.
Every voice makes a difference. Look at recent presidential elections. The decision sometimes comes down to a few votes in a few states. Your opinion matters, but it only does good if you make it known. The assumption that your voice won’t make a difference is what makes bad public policy possible.
Someone else will do it.
It is probably true that someone else will contact your legislator, but how do you know they are working for the same cause? There are many groups trying to get their voices heard. If they are talking and you are silent, how will anyone know the patient’s point of view? Your silence makes your opponents' voices even louder.
Absolutely no one is going to advocate for our illnesses—except us. And in many cases others may be fighting against us. There are millions of Americans with depression and bipolar disorder. Think how easy it would be to change things if each person took only five minutes out of their day to make that phone call or write that letter.
Nothing ever changes.
How often have you heard this? Sometimes, it seems like glaciers move faster than the legislative process. Let’s look at the numbers. During the 108th session of Congress in 2003, 3,700 bills were introduced in the House and 2,004 of them made it to the Senate. Legislative change happens slowly; the system is engineered this way on purpose. If laws were easy to change, then every swing of public opinion could change laws that would swiftly effect citizens. Though the system is slow, change does happen and you can affect change.
I don't know enough.
You don’t have to know all the details of a bill. Legislators don’t expect you to. All you have to know is why the bill is important. Members of Congress put a high value on input from the people they represent.