Lobbying, Advocacy and Stigma Busting

Lobbying in Behalf of People with Mental Illness

In close coordination with State and National NAMIs, our local affiliate is very active in lobbying in behalf of people with mental illness.



Wishing to create a Ridges Cemeteries Directory which would help family members and other interested parties locate the graves of individual currently buried under simple numbered gravestones, the Ridges Cemeteries Committee and NAMI (in a monthly meeting he attended) persuaded State Representative Jimmy Stewart to draft a bill allowing the disclosure of the identity of all individuals buried in mental hospital cemeteries. Stewart shepherded the bill through the house (with the help of testimony of NAMI members and others) and, having passed Senate, it became law in 2005.

At NAMI’s request, Stewart also introduced a “Medicaid Buy-In” bill which, became law in 2008. The Medicaid Buy-In for Workers with Disabilities (MBIWD) program now allows individuals with disabilities who are working to qualify for Medicaid with higher income and resource limits, and buy into Medicaid by paying a premium based on income. The program went into effect April 1, 2008. More recently, NAMI Athens members went to the statehouse to support Governor Kasich successful campaign to defy legislators in his own party by accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to persons earning up to 138 percent of the of the poverty level.

NAMI was also very active in the campaign for the local mental health levy which voters approved in 2001, 2007 and 2011. When there was a state budgetary threat to the local psychiatric hospital, Athens NAMI made sure there as a large turnout at ABH when the head of ODMH came to Athens to check things out. We, and other affiliates throughout the state, have helped turn out people for huge mental health rallies at the State House. And we were part of effective letter writing/emailing/phone campaigns. A big success was the campaign to get insurance parity for people with mental illness. A seemingly hopeless cause as recently as 2003, parity was written into law in 2006 – and ODMH Director Michael Hogan attributed that victory to massive NAMI lobbying. Following that triumph, NAMI immediately began lobbying for the preservation of physician/patient choice in medication and for increased funding for recovery services.

Advocacy and Stigma-Busting

A big part of working in behalf of persons with mental illnesses and their families is combating the mindless and cruel stigma

confronting persons with mental illness. Accordingly, most of our projects – the Ridges Cemeteries Project, our WOUB radio interviews, CIT police training, our lecture series, etc. – include at least some element of stigma busting. But one project in particular, our annual Walk the Walk for Mental Health Awareness, is focused entirely on that nemesis.

Walk the Walk was the brainchild of Pete Woosher, consumer/activist and former patient at the Athens Mental Health

Walk creator, Pete Woosher and Mom, Shelagh

Walk creator, Pete Woosher and Mom, Shelagh

Center. In 2000, he and members of the Gathering Place, staged the first Walk on the bike path from Hocking College in Nelsonville to The Gathering Place in Athens, with rest stops along the way.  This 10+ mile walk was meant to symbolize how far we have to go to improve the system, and to demonstrate our willingness to “walk the walk” until we get there. Today, the walk begins with a rally at the Athens County Courthouse – featuring speeches by elected officials and other dignitaries – followed by a walk across town and through the grounds of the former Athens Asylum on what is now known as “The Ridges.” The walk culminates in a pot luck luncheon at the Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare facility on Hospital Drive.

While the route of the walk has changed over the years, the goal has remained the same: to stigma bust, support those with mental illness and to honor their journey toward recovery.  Walk the Walk is now a well-known public event drawing walkers from Ohio University, Hocking College, and the wider community.


Brave souls on the Walk 2016

Banner carriers at the 2014 walk

Related stories:

May 10, 2011 – Statehouse Sleep-out to Fight Stigma

Dec 12, 2011 – Meeting with the Governor

May 1, 2013 – Pursuing Acceptance video featuring NAMI Athens members

October 22, 2016 – Walk the Walk 2016