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mental health mondays :: vote with your crazy [u.s. edition]

since i did a post on this subject for last year's canadian election, i figured it was only fair, given the amount of blog space i've dedicated to our neighbours to the south, to do a version for the imminent united states election. after all, with issues like the economy and foreign engagements getting buried in an avalanche of hacked emails and pussy, there's pretty much zero chance that either presidential candidate will ever mention mental health.

but that's ok, because it's not really the president who's going to decide these things, but the congress. so while you might want to fire some questions at hillary or the donald over social media [and you might even get a response], this post is intended more for candidates running for senate or congress, the ones who are more likely to come knocking at your door or ringing at your phone in order to win your vote in three weeks time. there may be lots of things that it would take to win your vote [even if you're decided on the presidential race, you can always split your vote down-ballot], but if mental health is important to you for any reason, i highly suggest approaching them with some tough questions on what they'll do to solve what could rightly be called a crisis.

but first of all, let's look at what the parties have to say on an official basis. i was happily surprised to find out that both parties actually do address the need for improved mental health care in their platforms. that was not the case in my country, where only one of five parties had anything to say on the subject at all. so bravo to both democrats and republicans right off for recognising that the issue deserves their attention.

democrats :: they are committed to attaining comprehensive basic coverage in many areas, including mental health, expanding on the existing platform of the affordable health care act. they particularly support the expansion of community healthcare centres, and promise to double the federal funding given to them. that sounds great, but the promise is actually to double funding over the next ten years, during which time there will be one more federal election, four congressional elections and an entire cycle of senate elections [meaning every seat will be up for grabs at least once]. it's hard to make promises over that period of time in america without some pretty serious bipartisan work. they also commit to greatly expanding access to care for substance abuse of all sorts, to veterans and to children. they intend to pursue a "zero suicide" commitment promoted by the department of health and human services. with regard to gun control policies, and pretty much the only time that you hear mental health mentioned in the american media is when there's a mass shooting, their position is that there "is insufficient research on effective gun prevention policies" and they support giving the centres for disease control and prevention resources to allow them to further research gun control as a public health issue.

republicans :: they strongly support a system of block grants [a sum of money transferred to state or local jurisdictions] in order to deal with their particular problems. block grants are given with only very general parameters, and give considerable leeway to the receiver to make decisions on how this is to be spent. their position is that federal mandates are wasteful, and that allowing decisions to be made at a state level will allow for more innovation. they oppose the use of federal funds in psychiatric screening programs for young people in school [especially where it concerns sexual education]. they make a strong commitment to fighting substance abuse, including abuse of prescription opioids, and propose measures such as  limiting medicaid patients to getting prescriptions at one pharmacy so that they cannot double-dip, and to protect doctors from legal action if they refuse to provide prescriptions for drugs with known addiction potential. in order to combat prescription drug addiction, particularly among veterans, the party recommends exploring a broader range of options for treatment, "including faith-based programs".

so now that you know the party positions [psst- those links go to the entire platform document for both parties, so you can actually read their positions on everything], here are a few questions i'd recommend asking anyone who tries to convince you're their best option for government:


  • [culled directly from my canadian post, because it's just as relevant, if not more so] patients with serious mental disorders are disproportionately poor, but often require more types of medication or higher dosages of medication than others. what will your party do to ensure that these people are able to afford their prescriptions, including meeting the needs of those who are homeless?
  • two pieces of legislation on mental health reform are currently before congress, one has passed its congressional vote and needs to be approved by the senate. the other has been introduced in the senate, but has yet to be put to a vote. do you support one or both of these bills? what can you do personally to expedite either their passage or revision? 
  • although the united states has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world, it ranks far lower than other countries in the effectiveness and accessibility of its treatment for mental health issues, including countries with far fewer financial and infrastructure resources. what evidence does your party have that their approach to these issues has been successful in the past, especially in areas where quality and access are better? [you can read a post about that subject right here.]
  • after many mass shootings, it is commonplace for the mental health of the perpetrator to be questioned. however, taken on the whole, people with mental illnesses are no more likely than others to commit violent crimes. do you and your party support changing existing laws to limit access to any firearms for those who have had mental health issues in the past? why or why not? 
  • although the numbers are not tracked, it's estimated that half the people shot by police have some history of mental illness and that mentally ill people who are shot by police are more likely to die as a result of their wounds. police and other first responders are often confronted with the mental illness in its most serious forms, and bad decisions in these situations can have tragic consequences. what will your party do to ensure that first responders of all sorts have proper and regular training on dealing with people who have mental illnesses? 
  • it's been reported that there are more people in prison with mental illnesses than there are in hospitals with the same illnesses. how does your party plan to address and correct this problem? 


honestly, these questions are going to be tricky for a lot of politicians to answer on the fly, so don't think they're disinterested just because they can't come up with talking points on the spot. ask that they get back to you, or ask for the phone number or email address of someone that you can contact with their organisation. when you do have the opportunity to speak to them, or someone authorised to speak on their behalf, make yourself a few notes on what their official party platform is. neither platform is detailed enough to address any of these questions, so if they're trying to blow you off by just spouting the party line, you can feel free to call them on it.

of course, you can and should ask whatever questions you want, but i am truly sick of having mental illness trotted out only when it's a convenient excuse for a [white] mass shooter. it is a problem and if these men and women are so convinced they can solve america's problems, this is as good a place as any for them to show that they can do it.

godspeed, my southern neighbours. make them work for your support, now and always.

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