As I went to the polls in my “Super Tuesday” state of North Carolina, and then watched the flurry of coverage that night and throughout this past week, I have been thinking anew about the importance of mental health voting in 2020. Whenever I go to the polls, I by necessity vote with mental health on my mind. Mental health struggles are not only individual struggles, they are struggles with systems that deny care, access, and dignity to so many. I’ve written about this topic in my new book, Grace is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare – in fact, you can download a free excerpt of the mental health voting section of the book by visiting davidfinneganhosey.com/resources – but I wanted to share a few more thoughts with readers of The Journey blog.
Mental health voting is not single-issue voting. I write in Grace is a Pre-Existing Condition about protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions; expanding Medicaid; understanding the connections between the failed mental health system, mass incarceration, chronic homelessness, and the substance abuse crisis; pushing back on the scapegoating of mental health struggles in national debates about gun safety measures; and paying attention to the way tax cuts for those with the most mean cuts in service and care for those with the least.
Just as importantly, voting with mental health in mind means resisting the urge to shame or demonize those whose voting behavior is different than mine. Those of us with chronic mental health challenges know better than anyone how shaming and demonizing language drives disconnection and isolation, exactly the opposite of the forces we need in order to have a big, courageous conversation about mental health and mental healthcare.
This past week in particular, I was also reminded by news coverage of long lines at the polls of the importance of voting rights and access. The closing of polling places due to racist voter suppression is also a mental health issue, as barriers to voting access are also barriers to those who struggle with depression and anxiety. When you’re sick, it’s hard to get to the polls. Anything that makes that trip more difficult impacts those with chronic health struggles of a mental or physical nature. Equitable access to polling places and equitable access to healthcare are linked.
Finally, I’ve been thinking this week about voting for mental health in the midst of a national atmosphere of anxiety and trauma. Our voting choices can sometimes feel like harm reduction, a short term response to the impacts of collective trauma even as we work for the bigger, bolder change that needs to happen in order to create a more just and caring society for all. I think it’s important for mental health advocates to name and honor this larger national context of anxiety even as we address the brokenness of the systems that prevent so many people from accessing care. And sometimes, that may mean stepping away from the amplification effects of social media and engaging in healthy self-care practices. It’s ok to close your laptop, take a walk, and engage in contemplative practices. This struggle will still be here later today and tomorrow. In the work of the common good, our own health and wholeness matters too, because we, too, are part of the common good. So onward we go, one tiny act of courage at a time.
David Finnegan-Hosey is the author of Christ on the Psych Ward and Grace is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare. He serves as College Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministries at Barton College. He holds an M.Div from Wesley Theological Seminary and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. He is certified by Mental Health First Aid USA to provide initial help to people experiencing depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorders. In 2011, David was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. He now speaks and writes about the intersections among mental illness, mental health, and faith. David lives in Wilson, NC with his wife Leigh, their daughter Laila, and their dog Penny Lane.