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Let me preface this post (as I probably should every post) that the views herein expressed are not the views of TurningpointCT.org or Southwest Regional Mental Health Board Inc. nor should they be construed as such. All thoughts expressed, whether mild or outrageous, are my own unless otherwise credited.
With the election just days away, I couldn’t resist posting something electoral for this week’s post. I don’t know about you, but from my perspective there has been so much about this election – including the candidates themselves – which could be the subject of a discussion (whether serious or sarcastic) on mental health and mental illness.
But really – what an election! If you are like me, you’ve probably been experiencing all sorts of feelings this election, and I would not be surprised if they were more negative than positive. When the two major party candidates are the most disliked presidential candidates in history, it is easy to understand the anxiety, frustration and disillusionment many people are feeling lately. Not to mention the scandal, after scandal, after scandal, after scandal we learn surround both Trump and Clinton – it seems like each week (or day rather) there’s a new blunder that is unearthed about each of them (or the parties they represent). The situation is so bad, the American Psychological Association (APA) even released coping strategies for what some are calling “Election Stress Disorder“.
Despite all this, however, I remain hopeful. I have actually been very excited this election, especially with all of the other options we as voters have available, both in terms of candidates and political parties. The majority of Americans identify as independents and 2016 has proven by far to be the year of third party politics. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is running with former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld on the Libertarian Party ticket. The Green Party is vetting Dr. Jill Stein – a Harvard trained physician and community activist – with international human rights advocate Ajamu Baraka. While it is highly unlikely (although not impossible) either these candidates will win, with just five percent of the vote a minor party can be legitimized at the national level, becoming eligible for at least $10 million in federal funding to help bolster its 2020 campaigns. The stress being felt this year, therefore could bolster more diverse political discourse and significant political change in years to come. Is “Election Stress Disorder” a gamechanger?
In addition to the hope offered by third parties, I also wanted to highlight a great resource I discovered on the NAMI website which breaks down voting rights by state, one with regard to mental health status and the other with regard to criminal history. I was surprised to see that in New England, it appears that New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont surpass Connecticut when it comes to civil liberties for ex-offenders and the mentally ill. However, Connecticut is still more accommodating than some other states. In the nutmeg state, you can be deemed “mentally incompetent” to vote, but you can have a guardian petition on your behalf. With regard to criminal history, you are eligible to vote once you complete your parole.
As mental health advocates, we are keenly aware of the power the negative feelings this election is bringing up and the effect they can have on people. We also know the power of Hope, and we are in a special position to underscore that power to others. As a marginalized community, we understand that regardless of who is in power, there is always work to be done. We can’t expect our elected officials (whether from a major or minor party) to save us. That being said, the community as a whole benefits when there is a greater diversity of voices at the table, which is why I think the inclusion of third party candidates is essential when trying to develop policy for the entire community, whether it be at the local, state or national level. We need to engage with the system and work to ensure that all people’s civil liberties are protected, since mental illness affects people in every community. Most especially, we need to organize for progressive policies which do not discriminate against people based on their mental health status or criminal history (which can sometimes be related to mental health issues). I believe we need to work with advocates across state boundaries to ensure that no matter where a person with a mental illness is living, they receive equal treatment before the law.
There are only a few days left in election 2016 – thank Goodness! Whatever the outcome, we need to be ready to continue to organize, advocate and resist for positive social change, even if that means changing (and sometimes breaking) the rules. Because if we don’t, who will?
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