It’s election week in the United States, and mental health is on my mind, specifically how we can prioritize mental health at the voting booths. The rates of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and overall stress are on the rise across our country and especially in our young people.  We really need politicians and lawmakers who are willing to address healthcare coverage and policies, access to mental health treatment and the issues that are fueling the rise of mental illness and suffering that we are facing.

What happens at the polls really matters. In the most basic sense, elected officials make decisions about health care access, coverage and treatment. These decisions impact us as individuals, as families and as communities. Every policy decision that is being debated has mental health implications, some more obvious than others.

First and foremost, we must show up to vote. This means make sure you are registered to vote according to the regulations of your state. And make sure you have a plan as to when and how you will cast your ballot. Second, laws impact criminal policy which can affect mental health. Third, we need laws and policies that support health and wellness rather than policies that cause trauma, stress and anxiety and therefore perpetuate the cycle of trauma.

There are several bills currently in process in the House and the Senate relating to mental health. For example, the Anna Westin Legacy Act of 2022, the Mental Health Services for Students Act of 2020 or the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-being Act of 2022. Do some research on which lawmakers have supported these bills and what your candidates are saying about supporting this legislation. Vote for people who support these important measures.

When you vote, the candidates you vote for and the officials who are elected are important. Look for those who have demonstrated a commitment to equitable health care, personal safety, the right to personal freedoms and the protection of all human rights. Now more than ever, we need politicians who demonstrate empathy, compassion, intelligence, critical thinking, and integrity. While no candidate is perfect, you can and should show prioritize those who are committed to the health and wellness of individuals in our society. 

But voting is not enough. We must do more. Philanthropy, activism and volunteerism are all critical. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you pick something and do it. Not only does your individual vote matter, but our collective vote in support of mental health matters greatly.

There are a lot of issues we need to address around mental health and healthcare, and we are going to need elected officials who understand and prioritize these issues. Our votes must send the message that we are valuing health and wellness. Please vote for mental health at the ballot box.