By Emalee Gillis, NAMI Spokane Blog Editor.
Your chance to participate in NAMI WA Lobby Day is on February 19 and you don’t have to leave Spokane. NAMI WA will set up virtual meetings with local legislators or legislative staff where you and others in our community can share your personal stories that indicate why it is important to you that legislators advocate for mental health issues in Olympia. If you would rather travel to Olympia to lobby in person, you are very welcome.
According to Anna Nepomuceno, the Director of Public Policy for NAMI Washington, “You don’t have to know the details of all the bills that the statewide Washington NAMI is supporting. What the legislators want to hear is your personal story.”
To hone your story to a few minutes, Nepomuceno recommends that participants in Lobby Day register for a NAMI Smarts session called “Telling Your Story” from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Monday, February 12 or Friday, February 16.
The legislative priorities of WA statewide NAMI are developed through a policy committee that includes up to two participants from each NAMI Affiliate. Over 30 people currently serve on this committee that meets weekly when the WA legislature is in session.
With guidance from the policy committee, statewide NAMI WA has chosen three topics to focus on during the current legislative session—1) building up the 988 rapid crisis response system, 2) expanding the behavioral health workforce, and 3) youth behavioral health.
1) The 988 suicide and crisis lifeline was implemented in the state of Washington in July 2022. However, the state needs to build out the responses in a way that all callers are served. Currently, there are gaps in the system. One bill NAMI Washington is supporting to help address this issue is SB5853. This bill would expand the 24-hour crisis model to youth.
2) Currently there is an acute behavioral workforce shortage across the country including in Washington state. NAMI Washington supports HB 1946 which would provide scholarships to people who want to be trained in behavioral health. Anyone who is awarded a scholarship would agree to work in a marginalized or rural community for a certain amount of time. This bill would allow more people to access training in the behavioral health field.
3) In Washington state, 2.6 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 die by suicide each week according to the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Also according to that same department, there was a 600 percent increase in suicides and suicide attempts among young people from 2013 to 2021. To counter this trend. NAMI WA is supporting HB2239 which would encourage schools to offer a social and emotional curriculum. NAMI WA is also supporting HB1929 which would provide transitional housing for youth 18-24 who are released from inpatient behavioral health care.
When Nepomuceno looks back, she sees many successes where NAMI WA was involved. Successes include getting a law passed that set up an ombudsman for behavioral health, a law that helped make licensing for behavioral health professionals more affordable, and a law that prohibited insurance companies from making mid-year changes to the list of medications that they cover.
Nepomuceno worked as a legislative assistant in Olympia. She has seen first-hand that legislators take note when a lot of people make their case to them. She said, “Those voices matter. Their emails matter. Their letters matter. Lobby Day matters”
NAMI Washington’s Lobby Day is on President’s Day, Feb. 19. Registration is open until February 14th.
Anna Nepomuceno is the Director of Public Policy for NAMI Washington. She brings over 10 years of political experience as a legislative assistant as well as the campaign manager for several local and statewide races. She also has lived experience with behavioral health conditions that fuels her passion.
Emalee Gillis is a writer and blog editor. She is the author of the memoir Adventures on the Path to Living Well with a Mental Illness and has a related TEDx Talk.