Va Gov. Candidates Say They Favor Mental Health Reform; Sadly One Is Helping Promote Stigma


In the hotly contested race for Virginia governor, The Washington Post quizzed the candidates about their positions on mental health. This is one of the first times that I have seen a major news organization ask candidates about mental health during a general election and not in the aftermath of a mass shooting. I am happy the media is finally including mental health in its list of  important campaign issues.

Now the bad news.

Backers of the Democratic candidate in the race are broadcasting an especially ugly, stigmatizing television ad.


The two leading candidates claim they care about fixing our mental health care system.

Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli has a proven track record.  I spoke to him personally when he was campaigning for attorney general and he really grasps the issues and cares about persons with mental illnesses. He demonstrated this while in the state legislature and as attorney general by backing critical legislation and programs such as Crisis Intervention Training. 

When I read Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s answers to questions that were submitted to candidates by the Virginia NAMI state chapter, I was pleasantly surprised. He said many of the right things.

So who is the better candidate from a mental health viewpoint?

 Cunccinelli has a proven track record, but I don’t agree with many of his ultra-conservative views. McAuliffe might have said the right things, but has no meaningful track record. Even more troubling, an ad that is promoting his campaign is stigmatizing persons with mental illnesses.

To be fair,  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super pac,  Independence USA, produced and is paying for the ad. It is supposed to counter ads that the NRA is paying to support Cuccinelli. 

While showing photos of shooters in recent mass killings, the ad repeatedly warns that Cuccinelli opposed a law that would have kept firearms out of the hands of the “dangerously mentally ill and criminals.” 

This is another example where the fight over gun control has run roughshod over mental health. If Terry McAuliffe really understands the plight of persons with mental illnesses, he would demand that Bloomberg’s group stop showing this offensive ad.

Cunccinelli and McAuliffe are not the only two candidates, although polls show that one of them will win. A third candidate, Robert Sarvis,  is in the race. In his answers to NAMI, Sarvis discloses that his father suffered from depression and committed suicide in 1986, giving him personal insights into the problems that all of us face getting decent mental health care.

Sarvis might not win, but his disclosure is an encouraging sign and act of bravely. Unlike the McAuliffe ad, his action is a stigma buster!

Voting is a private decision. But at least in this race, we have three candidates who claim they are listening.


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About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.