This past Martin Luther King Day, nearly two hundred of us from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Washington State descended upon the Capitol in Olympia to make our voices heard.  We both advocated for better mental health services and demanded repairs to the broken mental healthcare system in our State.

One of our banners read, “Everyone Knows Someone.”  For me, this message really strikes at the heart of our struggle: mental illness is common, it affects communities and families immensely, and we need to treat those with mental illness with dignity, and care, recognizing their humanity.

This was not only my first time attending NAMI Day but also my first experience lobbying.  There was no better way to honor Martin Luther King Jr., I felt, than advocating for issues of social justice, just as he had so heroically and so fiercely.  I approached the day with both awe and anxiety, but by the end I felt I had participated in something both deeply meaningful and of incredible importance. 

One in five Americans experiences mental illness.  Severe mental illnesses can result in homelessness, imprisonment, self-medication, and even suicide.  Though common and debilitating, mental illness is still a taboo topic for many.  Who speaks up for those diagnosed and their families?

I had the opportunity to meet my State representative, which although short, I felt made a deep impression.  We had very little time to communicate our concerns, and luckily the representative was already in full support of many bills and causes we were backing.  She was very well versed in the issues at hand, and at the same time both caring and compassionate.  I’m confident that our lobbying was a success.

I sincerely hope that more and more people will advocate for better mental healthcare.  It affects all of us, not just those diagnosed.  Everyone knows someone.

Sam, >NAMI Seattle MSW Intern