Voting as Someone Who Cares About Mental Health
I’m not going to tell you how to vote. What I am going to do is talk about the issues you should be concerned with during these mid-term elections and what you can do to make your vote count. Despite the fact that mid-term elections are usually boring or plagued by low turn-outs and minor local issues, these elections are likely to have national significance. This time, we are voting on people — representatives, senators and governors — who will make the policy for our states and our nation, including policies that affect mental health policies.
Health policy. We’re not voting directly on national health policy, but we are voting for or against the people who make those policies. Those policies include support for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), especially its protections for those with pre-existing conditions. This has become a popular issue and you will likely hear or see advertisements that tout the various candidates’ support for insurance that covers pre-existing conditions. The key here is to do a tiny bit of research. Whatever a candidate says now, has he or she always supported coverage for pre-existing conditions? Does the candidate have a history of trying to do away with such insurance coverage? Promises are not the point here; past actions are. Given the choice between an incumbent and a newcomer, I personally will go for the newcomer, especially if the incumbent has a track record of trying to dismantle coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Another important issue concerning mental health is safety net programs, particularly social security, Medicare and Medicaid. Many people with mental illnesses depend on these programs to cover their basic living and medical expenses. If you or a loved one needs this kind of assistance, vote accordingly.
There may also be local issues regarding police training, housing and the homeless that are relevant to persons with mental illness. Spend a few minutes researching before you vote. Some sites such as BallotReady.org and Vote411.org can help.
Your vote. Your vote only counts if you actually cast it and that can be a problem for those with a mental illness or disability. Going to the polls can be a difficult feat. But given the significance of the coming elections, overcoming this feat can have long-term impacts.
If you have trouble getting to the polls, first make sure you know where your polling place is located. It may have changed since the last time you voted. Then, ask around. Some cities, like mine, are offering free bus rides to polling places. Some services like Uber are offering discounted fees. Neighbors who go to the same polling place or members of support groups you belong to can potentially provide transportation. Don’t forget to ask friends and family, if you can. They may not realize how important voting is to you.
If your difficulty is not getting to the polling places, but being at them, plan ahead. There are likely to be crowds this year, so you may want to have a support person with you (especially one who also plans to vote). You may even be able to call the polling place ahead of time and find out when their peak voting times are so you can avoid them. If possible, avoid the noon rush; many people take a voting break from work.
You may have heard rumors of intimidation at the polls this year. These are likely exaggerated, as are predictions of civil unrest after the results revealed. If anyone tries to interfere with or influence your voting, find an official poll worker or ask for a provisional ballot; it is your legal right. Rely on a support person to help you get through the process.
Remember that this year’s elections are important. If at all possible, vote.
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