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2014 Toolkit


Share Your Voice through Op-eds and Online Articles

Download the Word version of “Share your Voice through Op-Eds and Online Articles” (1,095 KB).

Introduction…

People’s opinions are often shaped by what they read in the media, whether in newspapers or online.  The media is a powerful mechanism for spreading information, and placing an op-ed or bylined piece in a print or online media outlet can help raise awareness about National Recovery Month (Recovery Month).  An op-ed, short for “opposite the editorial pages” of a newspaper, is a way to express opinions and perspectives on a certain subject or initiative.  Writing about Recovery Month in any publication can promote understanding of mental and substance use disorders in your community, town, city, territory, or state.

This document includes helpful tips on how to write an op-ed or online article and how to submit it for publication.

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Get Started…

The 2014 Recovery Month theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery:  Speak Up, Reach Out,” encourages people to openly discuss mental and substance use disorders and the reality of recovery.  It aims to foster public understanding and acceptance of behavioral health conditions, including ways that faith leaders can speak up in their communities and reach out to offer support.

Think about this theme when you brainstorm ideas for your op-ed or online article.  Also consider the purpose of Recovery Month – to spread the message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people recover.

To help you gain more attention, note that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (http://www.samhsa.gov), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (http://www.hhs.gov), sponsors the Recovery Month observance annually in September across the country.

Plan appropriately and start writing early to place your op-ed or opinion piece – either in print or online – during Recovery Month.  Refer to the checklist below to stay on track: 

  • Determine a clear and concise message:  A strong op-ed or online article makes a single point or argument persuasively in the beginning of the piece.  Explain topics through simple messaging, allowing readers to stay focused and walk away with the main point.
  • Think current:  Make the subject of an op-ed or article timely and relevant to the general public.  Consider tying your piece to a recent event or news story.
  • Personalize it:  Include a personal story to help readers easily connect with the message.  Be sure to ask for permission before sharing someone’s personal story.
  • Locate statistics and facts:  Validate all statements or opinions with hard facts.  For example, if you want to note that mental and/or substance use disorders are common and more prevalent than one might think, include statistics on the prevalence.  Resources provided later in this document offer a starting point for finding those statistics.
  • Think local:  Give the article a local angle to increase chances that a print or online outlet will publish the piece.  Feature local residents in your op-ed or article – given they have granted you permission beforehand.  You can also address recent local events, and include statistics that are specific to your city or state.
  • Keep it brief:  Op-ed or online articles should be between 400 and 750 words.  Check with publications to determine specific limitations on word count or other requirements, such as deadlines and how they prefer to receive submissions.
  • Identify the appropriate publication(s):  Assess which publication is the best fit for a particular op-ed.  A local newspaper might be ideal if the article focuses on community issues.  If the article focuses on a broader, national issue, try a newspaper with a higher circulation.  Remember that most publications will not publish op-eds that were already published in another outlet.  For this reason, prioritize each outlet and select your top choices, followed by back-up options.  Read examples of past op-eds to get a sense of what formats and topics appear to capture the publication’s interest.
  • Create a relationship:  The best way to have your thoughts published or posted is to develop a relationship with the editor in advance.  Always plan out what you want to say before contacting the publication.  Provide background information about yourself, your organization, and Recovery Month, in addition to any local and state recovery issues.
  • Refer to the template:  Consult the sample op-ed at the end of this document to help initiate the writing process.

To gain additional attention for your op-ed, contact well-known organizations in the community and offer to co-write an op-ed or online article with them.  An established partner might catch the eye of an editor and increase the chances that your op-ed is published.  Refer to the “Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Resources” (http://recoverymonth.gov/Recovery-Month-Kit/Resources.aspx) document in this toolkit to see organizations that you could collaborate with in your area.

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Write…

Select a topic and statistics with a local angle to support your information about Recovery Month and its mission, along with this year’s theme.  Avoid controversial statements or imposing beliefs on others, but do take a clear position.  Also, consider the publication’s readers when writing an op-ed or online article, and think about what would catch their attention and create interest in Recovery Month.  If you feature or mention any prevention, treatment and/or recovery programs in your community, make sure you have their permission first.

Refer to the following tips when writing an op-ed or online article:

  • Include an eye-catching title that emphasizes central messaging;
  • Make it personal and include true stories to connect with readers;
  • Restate your main points at the end of the op-ed and issue a call to action;
  • Avoid technical jargon and acronyms – most newspapers are written at a fifth-grade level; and
  • Include your name, contact information, and a description of who you are and your qualifications at the end of the piece.

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Publish…

When submitting an op-ed or online article, include a brief cover letter to establish why you are qualified to write the piece and why it is timely, along with a simple explanation of why recovery from mental and/or substance use disorders is important to readers.  When trying to place your piece in a publication or online, be sure to:

  • Place a follow-up call:  Follow up with the editor one week after submitting the op-ed or article.  If he or she has not had time to look at it yet, follow up again one week later.  Remember to be polite and state that publishing your piece will help others who may not be aware of the seriousness of mental and/or substance use disorders and the possibility of recovery.
  • Set a time limit:  Since most publications will not send notification if an op-ed is rejected, set a deadline for your piece to be published.  If the deadline passes, move on to the next outlet and gauge their interest in publishing the piece.  Don’t give up!

If your op-ed is rejected from your desired publications, consider alternatives to the traditional printed op-ed.  Ask the publication’s website editor if op-eds can be posted on the online version of the newspaper.  Online opinion pieces can be much easier to share with others through social media outlets, such as Twitter (http://www.twitter.com) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com).

Also consider that many newspapers have online bloggers who cover local philanthropic events, and some may accept guest post contributions to discuss mental and/or substance use disorders or a Recovery Month event in your area.  Use the sample op-ed at the end of this document as a guide for a guest post, but remember to write in a more casual, personal manner when blogging.  If a blogger does not agree to a guest post, offer information about Recovery Month and prevention, treatment, and recovery of mental and/or substance use disorders, and encourage the blogger to write his or her own post on the topic or link to a local Recovery Month event’s website.

Keep in mind that Recovery Month celebrates individuals in long-term recovery, acknowledges those who provide prevention, treatment, and recovery support services, and empowers those in need of help to seek treatment throughout the year.  Even if your op-ed or online piece does not get published in September, keep trying throughout the rest of the year to help spread these crucial messages.

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Share…

SAMHSA is interested in receiving copies of published op-eds and hearing about any successes in promoting Recovery Month.  Be sure to check news sites such as Google News (https://news.google.com) or Yahoo News (http://news.yahoo.com) to see if an op-ed is published or whether other outlets have picked it up.  Posting on personal social media accounts is also a great way to share an op-ed.  In particular, you can:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
ATTN: Consumer Affairs/Recovery Month
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
1 Choke Cherry Road, Seventh Floor
Rockville, MD 20857

Inclusion of websites and resources in this document and on the Recovery Month website does not constitute official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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The following templates should not quote any SAMHSA official directly or add any content that could be potentially misconstrue the document as an official SAMHSA pronouncement.

SAMPLE OP-ED

Approximately 502 words

Recovery from Mental and/or Substance Use Disorders is Possible

People in recovery are all around us.  They are full contributors to our community, participating in business, volunteering, and providing for their families.  To promote an even more accepting environment, where people feel free to join others on their path of recovery, it’s important that we reach out to them or speak up for their cause.  Too many people are still unaware that prevention works and that mental and/or substance use disorders can be treated, just like other health problems, such as diabetes and hypertension.  We can work together to improve the overall health of our community by supporting behavioral health.

Having [Been in Long-term Recovery for XX Years / Worked in the Recovery Field for XX years / Other Statement of Personal Experience], I have witnessed the positive reality of recovery.  Individuals who embrace recovery achieve improved mental and physical health, as well as form stronger relationships with their neighbors, family members, and peers.  We need to make more people feel like recovery is possible. 

Mental and/or substance use disorders affect people of all ethnicities, ages, genders, geographic regions, and socioeconomic levels.  They need to know that help is available.  In fact, in 2012, 34.1 million adults aged 18 or older received services for mental illness in the past year, and 2.5 million people aged 12 or older who needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem received treatment at a specialty facility.

These individuals can get better, both physically and emotionally.  They need the support of a welcoming community – one that speaks up for their cause and one that reaches out to lend a hand.

Communities can engage in ways to speak up and reach out by celebrating the 25th annual National Recovery Month (Recovery Month), an initiative sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

[Name of organization] is celebrating Recovery Month by holding a variety of educational and entertaining events [Or Name Specific Event] to honor individuals and families who are in long-term recovery.  Your attendance will demonstrate the support of the recovery community, including those who provide recovery support services. 

I urge all community members or organizations to join in on the celebration and help stem the incidence of mental and/or substance use disorders.  Engaging with organizations by offering financial or volunteer support can help make recovery possible.  Let people know that free, confidential help is available 24 hours a day through SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD).  Additionally, you can provide information about local treatment and recovery resources on your website and link to additional information available at http://www.recoverymonth.gov.

To speak up or reach out to a person in recovery or seeking prevention or treatment services can make a huge difference. Together we can help others realize the promise of recovery.

[Include Author Name, Title, and Brief Summary of Qualifications that Make Him or Her an Expert on this Topic.]

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