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I Found Common Ground with my Iowa Lawmaker

I have always felt a passion for advocating for increasing access to behavioral health care, especially for children.

But having a kiddo with anxiety and ADHD has shone a brighter light on the need for mental health care that is easier to access and afford.

Even as a family with resources, education, time, and an understanding of our health care system, it has been a monumental challenge for us to find the right kind of care and services that will help our kiddo thrive and become a healthy young adult.

Of course, I am not one to do nothing, so I signed up to attend a day at the capitol hosted by one of Iowa’s organizations working to increase access to children’s behavioral health care.

I had only lived in Iowa for a few months, so I had not yet met my state representative. But I had heard that he was fairly conservative and not one likely to support this initiative.

So I went to the Capitol, hopeful for a productive conversation and day. I was fortunate that my lawmaker had the time to meet with me and came off the floor of the House to have a quick conversation.

Flanked by two of the organization’s lobbyists, I introduced myself to the lawmaker and shared that I was there to talk about improving Iowa’s children's behavioral health care system.

I started by sharing that I had a kiddo with some mental health challenges and difficulties we had finding the appropriate care for them, even with our access to resources, education, time, and an understanding of our health care system.

He nodded politely and said a lot of yeses and hm-ms.

Then I paused and asked, “Have you experienced anything similar?”

Surprisingly, he looked right at me and said, “Yes. I have a son with autism.” And then he shared about some of the challenges his family had encountered accessing care and services for his child.

After a short conversation, I promised the lobbyists I would follow up with him to get him more information about the initiative. Unfortunately, the pandemic started about a month later and all legislative efforts came to a halt.

I shared this story when I presented at the NAMI Iowa Annual Conference this month, highlighting to the attendees how a moment of vulnerability created a shared learning opportunity - for both me and the lawmaker.

My workshop, “Our Stories are Our Power: How to Use Your Loved Experience to Advocate for Change,” dug into how your advocates are the experts on their experience and how to use stories to connect with lawmakers.

When creating your advocacy strategy, remember:
  1. Personal stories are advocacy powerful tools to demonstrate the need for funding and access to mental health care.

  2. Lawmakers want - and need - to hear your stories. They need to hear how policies are impacting people’s lives and your lived experience can shine a light on what is needed.

  3. It is our duty to educate our lawmakers about issues that are important to us - and sharing how our state’s mental health policies are not meeting the needs of our families and communities is paramount.

Admittedly, the lobbyists said they did not know these details about my lawmaker. And it created an opportunity – for me and the organization - to connect with this lawmaker at a different, more human level.

Due to the pandemic, this policy campaign stalled out, but all organizations can find a way to leverage their advocates’ lived experiences and empower them to tell their stories.

Want to see my NAMI presentation? Shoot me an email and I’ll send you the slides. And then let me know if you want to chat more about how to dial in your advocacy strategy.

Here are a few snaps from the conference


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