Policymakers at every level have an impact on mental health services in your community.

Understanding how different policymakers impact mental health services and supports – and what you can do to educate them about mental illness – is critical to #Vote4MentalHealth.

Read on to learn ways to engage and educate candidates and how different policymakers influence what you see in your community.

5 Tips for Engaging and Educating Candidates

Below are ideas on how you can engage candidates. For more tips on how your organization can #Vote4MentalHealth, visit our Get Involved page.

  1. Learn about all candidates. Seek out all the candidates, not just the ones you think you support. This will help you understand where they all stand on a wide variety of issues. It’s also a good way to educate all candidates, regardless of who you vote for, about mental health. Follow candidates on social media and sign up for their e-newsletters to learn of events and other opportunities to interact, and read about their policy proposals on their website.

  2. Share your story. If you are comfortable, sharing how your personal experience with mental illness has affected you or a loved one makes issues real to candidates. Your story builds a personal connection with candidates, helps them remember you and keeps mental health front and center. Keep your story brief – about 90 seconds, just hitting the highlights.

  3. Ask open-ended questions. Don’t feed an answer to a candidate. Talk to them with an open mind and a general curiosity about their positions to learn about what solutions they propose. Ask questions like: “What will you do to increase the availability of mental health services and supports in our community?” Listen carefully to their answers and acknowledge the points that they make. They may ask for your ideas, so be ready to share your thoughts.

  4. Talk to campaign staff. Staffers are a great way to learn about where candidates stand on issues when you can’t speak to the candidate directly. When you show your knowledge and personal commitment to these issues, they may also seek you out to provide feedback on related issues. This is a great way to develop relationships with future policymakers and their staff.

  5. Follow-up after the election. Once a candidate is elected, being an engaged and active advocate helps build momentum on your issue. Share your knowledge and experience with the policymaker’s staff and offer to be a resource to that office. Sign up for their e-newsletter or follow their official social media account to learn what they are working on.


How elected officials impact mental health in your community

This includes:

  • Mayors – appoint local positions such as director of Department of Health and set policy for some local services and supports
  • City councilmembers – set policy and/or provide funds for local services and supports
  • County commissioners – set policy and/or provide funds for county services and supports
  • School board members – set policy for mental health curriculum or school-based/school-linked mental health services
  • Elected sheriffs – may implement response to people in mental health crisis or develop/support jail diversion programs
  • Elected district attorneys and judges – recommend or set criminal justice system responses to people with mental illness

Local and county officials’ terms vary depending on the municipality or county, and the position. Find out more from your state’s Board of Elections.

This includes:

  • State legislators – set policy and/or provide funds for state and local services and supports
  • Governors – appoint key state agency positions, such as the head of the state Medicaid agency and Department of Mental Health, and set policy for some state services and supports
  • Elected insurance commissioners – enforce health insurance parity and patient protection laws
  • Elected judges – recommend or set criminal justice system responses to people with mental illness (such as treatment courts and jail diversion programs)
  • Elected attorneys general – provide counsel to the state legislature and state agencies on parity and patient protection laws and enforce these laws

Governors and state legislators serve 2-4 year terms, which vary by state. Learn more about governors’ terms and state legislators’ terms.

Some insurance commissioners and state attorneys general are elected, while some are appointed. Find out more about your state’s insurance commissioner and your state’s attorney general.

This includes:

  • Members of Congress – set policy and/or provide funds for federally-supported services and supports, such Medicaid, Medicare and Veterans Health Administration; housing programs; research; parity and patient protections; and criminal justice initiatives.
  • President/Executive Branch – appoints key federal agency officials; oversees federal agencies conducting rulemaking; and appoints federal judges

Senators are elected every six years. Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years. The President is elected every four years and can serve a maximum of two terms.