People often ask us how to change their state's mental illness treatment law. Every state and situation is different. But we’ve discovered some tools that work no matter where you live.
You wouldn’t be asking how you could help if you weren’t already passionate and committed, the most important tools for any advocate. But you are also busy – that’s why we pulled together some ideas for when you have a small window of time. We call it “thirty-minute advocacy.”
Understand your state law
There are a number of things that are critical to getting help for people who are too sick to understand they are ill. Do you know the situation in your state? The first step to success is knowing the ground on which you currently stand.
Does your state allow for assisted outpatient treatment, also known as court-ordered outpatient treatment? Only six states don’t - Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, and Tennessee. As inpatient beds continue to dwindle and hospitals continue to close, the lack of an outpatient treatment option means people who are in crisis end up in the streets or in jails instead of in treatment. Research your law on our website to see where your state fits.
Does your state require someone to be dangerous before they can be court-ordered to treatment? About half of the states forbid treatment interventions until someone becomes dangerous, which limits help for people until they are in extreme crisis. Look up your law on our website to see where your state fits in, or get the details of your statute.
Does your state use the law it has? If your state law has useful components to it, find out whether or not it is ever put into action. For instance, many states have AOT laws that are used rarely or never. Start by asking your local mental health provider of department of mental health if they are using it. Is the answer “no”? Ask them why.
Is there activity already happening in your state? If not, should there be?
Understand the facts
Take 30 minutes to get the facts, and the next time a question is raised, you’ll be prepared.
Assisted outpatient treatment works. Recent statistics show that of those placed in six months of assisted outpatient treatment, 77 percent fewer were hospitalized, 85 percent fewer experienced homelessness, 83 percent fewer were arrested, and 85 percent fewer were incarcerated.
The consequences of lack of treatment are severe. They include homelessness, victimization, suicide, violence, and arrests and incarceration. Find out more in our series of fact sheets - or search our online database of preventable tragedies to see the impact in your state.
Anosognosia is a medical condition. The majority of those not receiving treatment have no awareness of their illness (anosognosia). Stigma and dissatisfaction with services are much less frequently cited reasons why people do not seek treatment. The greatest reason for nontreatment by far is lack of awareness of illness. Such individuals will not voluntarily utilize psychiatric services, no matter how attractive those services are, because they simply cannot understand that they are sick.
Severe mental illnesses are real diseases. Multiple studies confirm that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness) are diseases of the brain, in exactly the same sense that Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis are brain diseases.
Write a letter to the editor
The letter to the editor is one of the most effective tools of advocacy. Take 30 minutes to write one.
With one, your passion can reach tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of readers. Respond to news stories in your local paper by writing a letter to the editor.
Effective letters are relevant and timely. They are written as if you're talking to the editor of the newspaper – not to readers, not to elected officials, not to the world at large. They stay on point, focusing on only one topic. They are short, usually under 250 words. They avoid personal attacks. And they use personal experiences or statistics to make a point. We have lots of tips on writing good letters, as well as some examples, on our web site.
Contact your legislator
Write to your legislator. Even a handful of letters can have a tremendous impact on your state legislators and their decisions on whether to support treatment law reform. Letters do not have to be long-winded or full of statistics – in fact, short letters with personal stories are the most likely to be read. There are helpful tips on our website for writing letters to legislators. [Don't know who your legislators are? Find out at places like www.congress.org or www.vote-smart.org. These websites allow you to enter your ZIP code and get the names of your legislators. If you don’t have internet access, call your library to get the name of your legislator.]
Visit your legislator. Take 30 minutes to schedule a meeting with your legislator. Meeting with your legislator is the most effective way to explain the importance of treatment law reform. These visits help personalize the issue and allow you to "read" your representative’s reaction to your request of support.
Help implement and publicize good laws
After you get a law passed, or if you discover that your state already has a good law that just needs to be used, you can help ensure effective implementation. Some of the things you can do to let people know about the law include:
* create or ask for a guide for family members to understand and use the new law to get treatment - some examples are on our website, and include a guide to California's AB 1424, a guide to New York's Kendra's Law, and a guide to California's Laura's Law;
* make presentations to various stakeholder groups like service providers, judges, and law enforcement; and
* look for media opportunities to highlight reform. Did a news article in the paper get the law wrong? Send a letter and educate readers. In one good example, this Maryland advocate saw a general article about the issue of medicating someone to be competent to stand trial - she jumped on that as an opportunity to tell readers about the new law in her state. Media coverage can make a tremendous difference.
Exchange information with others
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Donate to the Treatment Advocacy Center
The Treatment Advocacy Center does not accept funding from pharmaceutical companies or entities involved in the sale, marketing or distribution of such products.
Donations from friends like you are vital to our success. Without individual donors, we would not be able to support advocacy efforts in states across the country, prepare and maintain materials for everyone from family members to reporters, testify at hearings, or help struggling families via phone.
A donation will allow us to continue fighting for those who are too sick to help themselves. You can donate via check, payable to The Treatment Advocacy Center, or online, using our secured server. Mail donations to: The Treatment Advocacy Center, 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 730, Arlington, VA 22203 Please be sure to indicate if you are making your donation "In Honor Of" or "In Memory Of" a special person. "In Honor Of" and "In Memory Of" gifts will be published in our bimonthly newsletter Catalyst.
The Treatment Advocacy Center is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. More ways to support our mission can be found on the donor page of our website.
We thank you for your support. Together, we’ll make a real difference.