How Can You Help?
Advocacy consists of an individual or group attempting to educate and influence a decision maker so that an action is taken.
Individuals and organizations that can bring their issues to the public agenda in a clear and concise way, with consistent messaging, compelling arguments and realistic 'ask', can achieve their advocacy goals with great success.
You can have an impact too when it comes to mental health in Canada! Here are some tips and ideas for conducting your own advocacy efforts. Remember, if you are conducting advocacy as part of a larger organizational campaign, but sure to check in with your organization to view the key messages around the issue and access any background materials which might be helpful in your efforts. (For example, the SSC had a series of online and print tools available for individuals to express their support as part of the campaign for a Mental Health Commission of Canada.)
Any individual or organization participating in an advocacy effort should have a clear, concise message and a single 'ask'. Providing decision-makers with a wish list of all the things you want is unlikely to result in action. Decide on the one that is needed right now and make that your 'ask'.
Writing or Visiting Your Government Representative
A letter is an excellent opportunity to educate your representative about your issue. Keep your letter reasonably short, clearly identify the issue you are supporting, state your 'ask', and provide compelling reasons why action should be taken. Your letter can be strong but should also be constructive and polite.
Visiting your representative is another effective way to convey your message, though it can take some time and planning. Contact your representative's office well ahead of time to request a meeting. Be prepared to give a brief overview of the issue you wish to discuss and specify who, if anyone, will be joining you. Plan your meeting by listing the key messages you wish to convey and your 'ask'. Be sure to bring a package of materials for the representative, including position papers, fact sheets, newsletter articles and other resources that support your position. Follow up the meeting with a thank-you letter that outlines your understanding of the results of the meeting.
- Sample Letter
- Find your Member of Parliament in Ottawa
- To find your Provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly, visit your provincial government web site
Writing a Letter to the Editor
Letters to the Editor of your local newspaper can be a very effective way to highlight a specific issue and convey your messages. Here are some general tips for writing a Letter to the Editor:
- Keep the letter short. Look at the average length of letters in your local newspapers and aim for a similar length.
- If possible, try to relate the letter to a story, letter or other editorial feature recently published in the newspaper. This makes the issue more topical.
- State your cause, your reason or evidence and what should be done.
- Where feasible, incorporate your own personal story to support your cause.
- Don't give up if your letter doesn't get printed right away. Newspapers receive numerous letters and can only print a small number. If your letter doesn't make it in the first time, keep writing as appropriate.
In order for advocacy campaigns to succeed, they need support from individuals, family members, friends and everyone else who is impacted by a certain issue. You can support advocacy for mental health in Canada by getting involved with the Schizophrenia Society of Canada and your provincial schizophrenia society. Become a member or volunteer in our schizophrenia association and you'll have the opportunity to learn about and participate in our advocacy campaigns and initiatives as they are being developed.