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Turning Listening into Legislation: Advocating for More Accessible and Affordable Mental Health Care

12 Apr 2022 — 3 min read

By Nancy Farrell

Photo of the white house at dusk

Sharing My Story – and My Father’s – at The Overnight

When I was about nine years old, my parents took my brother, Michael, and me to Washington, D.C., for spring vacation. We saw the cherry blossoms and the great memorials – Lincoln has always been my favorite. We had passes from our Congressman to visit the House, and we boarded the train that runs between the House and Senate to finish our tour. A man asked if he could join us, and my parents recognized him. They had followed his career and knew he was planning to run for a higher office. He asked where Mike and I went to school and what our favorite subjects were. English, said I. He said English was one of his favorites, as well. In later years, when I realized the man we’d been talking to was John F. Kennedy, I wasn’t surprised, since I knew he was quite a good writer. I have always remembered his response and often used it as encouragement.

I shared this memory of my brother Mike and myself at one of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s first Advocacy Forums. Mike had focused his career on criminal justice, gaining a master’s and law degree and working as an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx and Brooklyn. He volunteered for political campaigns and was passionate about public service. He then suffered a deep depression and took his life at age 40. His loss brought my family to AFSP.

One of the five core demands of AFSP’s 2022 Mental Health Awareness Month campaign, #MoreForMentalHealth, is “More accessible and affordable mental health care.” It has indeed long been one of the most important things AFSP’s volunteer mental health advocates fight for. I often wonder if Mike had obtained care earlier and the stigma associated with depression had been addressed, we would still have him with us. Times were different back then, and we’ve made a lot of progress, but there is still so much further we must go. I do know that passing smart legislation to make mental health care more accessible and affordable will save lives in the future.

My brother has always been my model for suicide prevention advocacy. Telling his story in my State House in Massachusetts and in the halls of Congress is how I plan to make a difference and save lives. Elected officials are just like us: they have families and illnesses. Some are suicide loss survivors and others have family members with lived experience. Telling our stories as volunteer advocates at every event, office visit and in emails advances legislation we need to secure more accessible and affordable mental health care.

There are many ways you can become an advocate! You can sign up to become an AFSP field advocate on our website. When there is an important mental health issue in your state capital or in Congress, you will get an email to sign in support. It takes about three minutes – I have timed it – to read, review and send your support. You can visit your state representative or senator during an AFSP State Capitol Day to encourage passage of important legislation. You can encourage your family and friends to sign up with us, email their legislators and spread the word. You can visit your members of Congress in District offices where they represent you. You can go to the special #MoreForMentalHealth website to discover specific legislation related to this and other advocacy demands.

People often tell me they wouldn’t know how to advocate or talk with their elected officials. You have a story to share, as I do, and people will listen. Your story is the opening to an ongoing conversation with your representatives. Our job as advocates is to make sure that listening becomes legislation.

Every family in America needs accessible and affordable access to mental health services and together, we can make that a reality. If everyone who reads this essay signs up as a Field Advocate and shares their voice, we can rally greater support for suicide prevention.

Acting in memory and in hope, we can make a difference – because that’s what advocates do. Join us!

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