VOCAL Member's Advocacy Experience

Advocacy for Personal Needs and Systems Change

The VOCAL  Advocacy effort offers trainings and support to empower peers to advocate for their own needs and for systems changes that benefit people with lived experience of mental health challenges.

To schedule a presentation about self-advocacy skills in your area, see the VOCAL Workshop Catalog and reach out to Megan Sharkey at 804-343-1777.

Before, during and after legislative session, the VOCAL Advocacy Team educates legislators about the needs and interests of people who have been diagnosed with mental illness in Virginia. Our team monitors legislation under consideration and carries the message of VOCAL’s values, mission and agenda to the public and our law makers. Read VOCAL’s Public Policy Statement.

If you are interested in participating on VOCAL’s Advocacy Team, contact Yolande Long, Network Program Coordinator, via email: yolande@nullvocalvirginia.org or call our office at 804-343-1777.


Being an effective advocate means being able to talk the talk, as well as walk the walk. Many names of organizations are shortened into acronyms and these acronyms are used in regular speech. For someone who is new to advocacy, and for someone who is old to it, understanding what people are referring to when they use acronyms can get confusing. Click here for a list of commonly used acronyms in mental health advocacy in Virginia and what their definitions are.


The following question appears on the Virginia Voter Registration form, “Have you ever been judged mentally incapacitated?” If the answer is yes, it then asks if competency has been restored.

It is important to understand that being involuntarily committed to a mental health facility is not the same as being judged incompetent. Your voting rights remain intact.

It makes a difference when people who experience mental health challenges let their voices be heard. Voting is a key way to speak up. Involuntary and voluntary mental health treatment does not take away your right to vote.

Virginia law revokes the right to vote for those who are judged incompetent. However, voting rights are reinstated once a court restores a person to competency. The incompetence process is a specific legal action that a very small percentage of people go through. (information from Mary McQuown)


An important part of being an advocate is knowing who the legislators that represent you are so that you can direct your questions and concerns to the right person. To find out who represents your area and how to get in contact with them please follow this link: http://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/


You can see the most up-to-date information about current legislation online. The Virginia General Assembly’s website has information about exactly where a bill you are interested in tracking is located in the general assembly and what progress it has made.

Another website that some find more user-friendly is www.richmondsunlight.com, this site also tracks bills in the general assembly but does not yield as much information.