Making advocacy accessible: 5 learnings from my first congressional briefing

MHA Admin

Tue, 01/16/2024 – 08:40

by Makalynn Powell

If you’re like me, the idea of attending a congressional briefing may be intimidating and confusing. Initially, I expected what you might see on C-SPAN – to walk into a large meeting room full of older, influential government representatives questioning people as they stand in front of a microphone. As mental health advocates, or future advocates, our voices matter, and attendance at these types of forums is imperative for change. Perhaps, like you, the thought of something so formal was intimidating.

What I experienced, however, was far less stoic. In fact, it was the exact opposite of what I was expecting. They even provided snacks and refreshments.

Briefing basics

Congressional briefings are like mini informational sessions filled with people from all corners of the nation who share a common interest or concern. The main goal is to provide insights into an issue by detailing its prevalence and helping people understand that change is necessary for improvement. Once that information is provided, participants can explain how and why their proposed solution would benefit the greater good.

Recently, Mental Health America and our partners organized a congressional briefing to discuss the importance of peer support services and what is needed from Congress to expand access. You can check out the recording here. For someone new to mental health advocacy or wanting to become more involved in the legislative side, here are discoveries I made that might help on your journey.

5 takeaways and tips

1. If you’re looking for a solution to a systemic issue, you must provide information on why and how that issue affects average citizens – and offer solutions.

At the latest briefing, Mental Health America gathered a group of experts in peer support services to discuss why new solutions are vital to their work and how others can get involved. Among the panelists, one provided direct peer support services in underserved communities; the second received these services as a young person and has since dedicated their life to ensuring other young people have that same access; the third works for a health insurance provider that reimburses peer support specialists, increasing access for many folks in need; and the fourth panelist shared her experience with institutionalization and professionals who claimed her diagnosis would prevent her from living an everyday life. All four experts provided in-depth knowledge and living proof that peer support services are effective and should be physically and financially available nationwide. The information they shared proved to attendees how beneficial peer support services have been to the lives of those they serve and showed how easy it would be to implement more peer services across the nation. As an organization led by the voices of lived experience, these real-life accounts gave insights into the issue. By then providing a solution and tips on how that solution can be molded and applied on a larger scale, policymakers are left with tangible mechanisms to work with.

2. Support from multiple groups and organizations is essential.

If you plan on asking for anything from Congress, or even your local or state legislator, you had better have ample support from several sources. With 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 youth experiencing a mental health condition in any given year, mental health will affect everybody either directly or indirectly at some point in their lives. Having this knowledge makes the case that mental health care is a bipartisan issue, which has resulted in overwhelming support from both sides. That support comes in handy when these asks are taken to Congress. In addition to bipartisan support, Mental Health America used this opportunity to gather like-minded partners and collaborators to inform the briefing. Increasing the breadth and depth of the information, along with the diverse bodies of representation, strengthened our asks.

3. “Leave-behinds” provide critical information and summaries.

Congressional briefings tend to provide much information within a short period, so it’s reasonable to assume some of that information may be glossed over or not retained. Staffers, liaisons, and others in attendance may need to relay what they heard to a Congressperson or other staff, and you want to make sure they hit the vital information. The purpose of a leave-behind document, or one-pager, is to ensure your audience understands the message and can reference it once the briefing ends. In this particular briefing, we had six asks that included information on different acts, bill proposals and calls to action, all mixed in with impactful stories of lived experiences from our panelists. Providing attendees with a short, concise summary of the focal points ensures those with the power and motivation to take action have the correct information to do so.

4. Invite the right speakers, organizations, and other attendees.

If you are hosting a briefing, or advocacy event, getting the word out to key individuals and organizations will go a long way to strengthen your message and improve the chances of asks being put into legislation. With mental health being a concern for everyone, regardless of their political affiliation or demographic profile, it stands to reason that most folks would want to see conditions improve. At this briefing session, the invite list included over 70 organizations who wanted to learn more about or shared our passion for peer support services. We also invited experts to share their lived experience: Tiara Springer-Love, a mental health advocate from New York; Lauren Foster, a behavioral health program manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield, Minnesota; Vesper Moore, a mental health advocate at Kiva Centers; and Dana Foglesong of the National Association of Peer Services. By having panel experts from various corners of the mental health world, we could discuss the multiple barriers to implementation and potential solutions to improving access. The wide array of attendees improved our chances of spreading that information throughout groups and organizations to garner even more support. This is crucial for goals like increasing funding for research and advocating for grants and support for community organizations that provide peer support services.

5. Congressional briefings are a great place to network and meet folks with similar agendas.

If you are attending a congressional briefing, it’s probably because you have a vested interest in the subject matter – along with the other attendees. Common interests make it the perfect opportunity to meet face-to-face with other people who share your passion and can discuss solutions. A business card is a must if you plan to expand your professional contact list. Additionally, introducing yourself to panelists after the session is always a good idea. After all, those speakers are experts in their field and have experience in your area of interest.

Ultimately, my frightening perception of congressional briefings at Capitol Hill was shattered, and I will attend more should I get the chance. I arrived feeling anxious and out of place but left feeling supported and rejuvenated in being a part of the solution. I also learned a lot despite being well-versed in the subjects. It helped to hear accounts of lived experiences and realize that others care about and want to improve mental health in our nation. Plus, the snacks they provided were excellent. If you get the chance to attend a congressional, or even state government, briefing, take it.

Watch recording of congressional briefing

Makalynn Powell is the Peer and Youth Policy Fellow at Mental Health America.

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DID YOU KNOW?

The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
 
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Emergency

Code Red
Gunshot Victim
Life Threatening Wounds
Physical Assault Victim
Severely Injured Auto Accident Victim
Burn Victim
Epilepsy/Seizures
Cardiovascular
Choking & Breathing Obstructions
and more…

trauma

Child Sex Assault Victim
Domestic Violence Victim
Drug Overdose
Rape/Sex Crime Victim
Suicide Watch
Trafficking Victim
Nervous Breakdown
and more…

Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.

Rehabilitative

Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Computer/Graphics Training
  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
  • Hospitality Training
  • Job Etiquette & Grooming
  • Resume’ Prep
  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
  • Life Coaching & Coping Strategies
  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
  • Medicare Informational Workshops
  • Mentorship Training
  • Parental Classes
  • Support Groups
  • Town Hall Discussions
  • Violence De-Escalation Training
  • Voter Registration

Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
  • Meal Prep

Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at:
info@healthydcandme.org