The Stepping Up Initiative
Throughout the United States, too many people are in the prison system because they are living with mental illness. Either they went in for a minor infraction that, once inside was made worse due to lack of treatment in an inhospitable atmosphere, or because there simply was no other place to put them. Time spent inside is often lengthened due to insufficient treatment (if any treatment exists) due to “acting out” that sometimes results in solitary confinement. Solitary is the worst thing for someone struggling with serious mental illness and does nothing for their long term health. One of the challenges with addressing this issue is the lack of information about how many people are in the jail and living with mental illness, what is their diagnosis, other health conditions and what (if any) treatments they receive.
Another benefit to this plan would be to improve working conditions for staff in the jails and prisons. If they had fewer individuals who needed treatment, as opposed to incarceration, their jobs would be less stressful. The county budget should also see some relief as treating people proactively is less expensive than “treating” people reactively.
Stepping Up seeks to resolve this issue by creating a committee made up of agencies that have a stake in what is happening in the jails: Sheriff, County Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, City of Sacramento, Justice Department and an advocacy group like NAMI Sacramento. The initiative starts with the County Board of Supervisors, by issuing a proclamation dedicating the effort and establishing the goal of reducing the number of people in county jails due to mental illness. The committee would be put in place and all data provided to determine the scope of the issue and work on solutions. The committee would track progress and make recommendations as needed.
We need Sacramento County to Step Up and address this issue. Let your county supervisor know by writing a letter of support for this issue. Be sure to write your supervisor as they give weight to their constituents. If you don’t know who your supervisor is, click on this link to go to their map: http://www.saccounty.net/SupervisorLookUp/Pages/default.aspx
Take the stigmafree Pledge
Mental health matters to everyone. Individuals, companies, organizations and others can all take the pledge to learn more about mental illness, to see a person for who they are and take action on mental health issues. Take the pledge and raise awareness.
- Learn about mental health—educate myself and others
- See the person not the illness—strive to listen, understand, tell my own story
- Take action—spread the word, raise awareness, make a difference
Share Your Story
It’s important for people living with mental health conditions to know that they are not alone. Sharing a story about your personal experiences with mental health challenges can help in your own recovery as well as provide encouragement and support to others with similar experiences. Telling your story can take several forms:
- Song lyrics
- Inspirational quotes
You have an authentic voice. You can make a difference for yourself and others by sharing your experiences and perspective. What has helped? What hasn’t? What has been most discouraging about your condition? What has given you hope? There are all sorts of things you know that other people want to know—you are not alone.
Let them know that they aren’t either.
Take Action on Public Policy Issues
Public policy makes a difference in the lives of both the people living with mental health conditions and the people in their lives. Changes in policy can mean better outcomes. Our advocacy efforts have led to many victories including:
- Securing better funding for research.
- Protecting access to treatments and services.
- Attaining mental health parity to ensure that mental illness is treated equally to physical illness in most insurance plans.
But we still have work to do, and we need your help. Learn about mental health advocacy. Talk to your neighbors, friends and family about why these issues are important. Visit the NAMI Advocacy Headquarters to add your voice to our advocacy efforts.
To learn more about NAMI’s stance on advocacy and public policy issues that affect adults and children living with mental illness and their families, read the NAMI Public Policy Platform (PDF).