The Hogg Foundation works to foster the capacity of individuals and organizations to engage in effective mental health advocacy. Through the Hogg Mental Health Policy Fellow Grants program, organizations receive grants to hire in-house policy fellows, individuals who receive extensive training and experience in mental health policy work.
In his own words, Greg Hansch, Policy Coordinator for NAMI Texas, tells us what his Hogg-funded fellowship has meant to him personally and professionally.
- Tell us a bit more about your background. How did you decide to get into mental health policy work? My interests in mental health and the policy issues surrounding it are partially inspired by the personal experiences of friends and family members living with mental illness. I began to research the subject of mental health policy and read some literature that clearly indicated the pressing need for reform in this area. Wanting to balance my interest in direct service with a deep desire to impact public policy, I chose to attend graduate school at the Rutgers University School of Social Work. In the first year of grad school, I learned important clinical skills for working with individuals with mental illness. I then earned a fellowship with the Eagleton Institute of Politics and was able to secure an internship with the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. These experiences firmly solidified my desire to work in the field of mental health policy.
- What have you learned from working with legislators and their staffs at the Capitol? I have worked with legislators and their staff in a couple other state capitols, but before this fellowship, I had never had frequent, regular contact with legislative offices as a full-time representative of a statewide organization. One of the most important lessons I learned is that building relationships and offering proposals before the session is critical. Once the session hits, there is such a whirlwind of activity over the course of a few months that the opportunity to communicate regularly with legislators and their staff can be very limited. I also learned that there is a lot to gain as an advocate by being actively communicative and transparent when it comes to interacting with legislative offices. Lastly, I learned that after the regular session and special session(s) are over, legislators and their staffs appreciate the opportunity to sit down with advocates to discuss the session and future opportunities for collaboration.
- Personally, what did you accomplish this session that you are most proud of? Out of everything that we as mental health advocates accomplished, I have to say that I am most proud of the increase in funding for mental health services. This was the top legislative priority for the organization that I work for, NAMI Texas, and several others. The mental health advocacy community did a great job of coordinating our strategy, messaging, and tactics. We were able to make a strong and convincing case that mental health services in Texas are underfunded and that funding levels should be increased. With the budget bill containing a mental health funding increase of nearly $350 million over last biennium’s budget, we have a great deal to be proud of.
- The Capitol can be a physical and emotional grind. Did you find that to be the case, and if so, what helps you deal with it? There were a number of very long days during the session. Sometimes I would arrive by 8 AM and be there until after midnight. My laptop and phone were invaluable in getting me through these trying times. Spending the day waiting to testify is not so bad when you’re able to send emails, type work documents, tweet, and generally stay connected to the outside world. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of the Capitol Grill for their consistency in providing nourishment at most hours of the day. Lastly, the support of other advocates at the Capitol was incredibly helpful in making it through the session. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such a friendly, intelligent, funny and caring group of people.
- What has been your favorite part of your fellowship at NAMI? My favorite part of the fellowship has to be the Mental Health Capitol Day Rally & Advocacy Training that was held on February 28th. It was really inspirational to see hundreds of mental health advocates come from all over to the state to meet with their elected officials to create change in our system. I worked with other advocates for months planning the rally, and it was highly rewarding to watch the event flow so smoothly. The media showed up, and I think the rally had a significant impact on policymaking. I’ll never forget driving home from work that day and hearing myself quoted on the KUT News radio station.
- In what ways have you grown since you first started at NAMI? I moved to Texas for the fellowship, so I didn’t know the Texas mental health system before I came here. Through the program, I have acquired a strong understanding of not only the system but also some of the more complex concepts of mental health policy. Aside from testifying at the legislature, giving various presentations, and working with legislative offices, I have learned a great deal about working in a small nonprofit office environment. My colleagues and I work closely as a team and we all take on significant responsibilities in the management of NAMI Texas.
- How do you plan on using what you learned during your fellowship in future work? I plan to continue to work in mental health policy, so this fellowship has been perfect in preparing me for my future. Everything that I’ve learned during the fellowship and the connections that I’ve made have helped set me up for a career in mental health policy, hopefully in the state of Texas.