Advocacy Corner: My Mental Health Policy Advocacy Journey – Washington, D.C.

Written by Barbara Ornelas, Reentry Advocacy Fellow


Last October, I had the privilege to be a guest fellow with the University of Texas Hogg Foundation Mental Health Policy Academy. This exciting week in Washington, D.C. immersed me in the intricate realm of mental health policy. Here are some of the highlights of this incredible journey.

Our expedition was a unique opportunity to connect with dedicated experts and organizations shaping mental health policy. Dr. Noel Mazade, a standout researcher from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, illuminated mental health research and conflict management, broadening our horizons. We also engaged with Dr. Howard Goldman from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, delving into the funding and operation of mental health services, offering a treasure trove of knowledge about the past and present mental health service landscape.

The McKinsey Health Institute (MHI), a branch of the renowned McKinsey & Company, revealed invaluable healthcare data, providing a secret weapon to delve into the current mental health service landscape. Conversations with the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) were enlightening. They are the key players in state-level mental health and have been dedicated to research through the NASMHPD Research Institute (NRI) since 1987, aimed at improving mental health services.

We also uncovered insights from Matt Salo, the mastermind behind Salo Health Strategies, about the nuances of healthcare policy variations across states, offering an inside look at the challenges and opportunities in the healthcare policy landscape. Lunch with Young Invincibles was inspiring as they championed young adults’ voices in politics and employment opportunities, instilling hope for the future.The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) emerged as heroes in the battle against poverty and mental health disparities, ensuring equal access to mental health services. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a grassroots organization, stole the spotlight, providing unwavering support, education, and advocacy for individuals and families navigating mental health challenges. The energy they brought made NAMI my favorite.

In a nutshell, this week-long program was an invaluable opportunity to deepen my understanding of mental health policy and the transformative role played by these organizations. The insights gained are the knowledge I need to make a real impact on mental health initiatives and provide unwavering support to those affected by mental illness. Reflecting on my time in Washington, D.C., I’m filled with gratitude for the wisdom and experiences acquired. I eagerly  anticipate translating these insights into meaningful actions and creating a brighter future for those facing mental health challenges.

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