Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mental Health and Politics

Does mental health and politics mix? Yes and no. The type of politics represented by consensus-building grassroots efforts, informed by solid data, to advocate for better policy and services definitely has a role to play in improving mental health care. Barbara Mikulski's work to improve parity in mental health is a prime example of this.

There is another kind of politics which has no place in mental health communities or movements. This type of politics seeks to gain attention primarily for its sponsors, tends to rely on spin or distortions of data which capture attention and followers, and avoids building consensus or involving stakeholders in any genuine sense. Such attempts are often short-lived because its true motives are shallow, which means true advocates will not stay on long. In reality, these methods result in harm for mental health and those who are in the trenches fighting for its advocacy. If they do produce a policy or service these will be faulty since the data they are built on are faulty as well, likely causing conflict or confusion among stakeholders. The sponsors of these movements tend to move on to other projects rather quickly, and qualified others do not step in their place to sustain what they started. Sometimes a group of vendors will develop related products, but their main goal is financial and has little to do with improving mental health care. Various attempts in support of conversion therapy for homosexuality, which has resoundingly been condemned in nearly all professional circles, are perhaps good examples of this type of politics. But many other, smaller movements are more mundane and numerous than this.

We have a short supply of the type of work Mikulski has carried out. But we have an abundance of the other. Those working in mental health professions are always looking, if not starving, for help. When approached by marketers or politicians there can be a real temptation to take the bait. The switch comes later of course, and by then there will disappointment that one's expertise or carefully maintained information drew no attention in the development of the product or cause. A far worse outcome may involve a cheap and immature denigration of your work in order to falsely contrast it with what is being sold.

So, here are some tips in managing these contacts:

  • Do thorough research on the individual or cause before you meet with them
  • Involve other stakeholders and witnesses to the discussions and agreements
  • Put any agreements in writing with signatures of all concerned
  • Consider contacting the media with your perspectives on project development
  • Push out content broadly on social media
  • Maintain fidelity to your philosophy and work throughout the process