WASHINGTON – Starting a conversation about mental illness can help end discrimination and speed treatment to those who need it,President Barack Obama and others said Monday at a conference at the White House.
“The brain is a body part,too. We just know less about it,” Obama said. “And there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love. We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment. We’ve got to get rid of that stigma.”
At the National Conference on Mental Health,the Obama administration announced a new website,mentalhealth.gov,with information about how to identify illness and find help. The site also features videos of celebrities and other Americans sharing personal stories. The audience and panel discussion participants included members of Congress and those working on mental health issues.
Actress Glenn Close,who has a testimonial on the new website,spoke about the challenges her sister,diagnosed with bipolar disorder,and her nephew,diagnosed schizoaffective disorder,face. She founded Bring Change 2 Mind,to end prejudice against mental illness.
“One of the main things that has to happen in our society is inclusion,” Close said. “The amount … of talent that we are losing because we are not taking care of people who are suffering from mental illness is catastrophic.”
One in five adult Americans has a mental illness,according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Yet,the president said less than 40 percent of people with mental illness receive treatment. He said the Affordable Care Act will help change that by providing mental health and substance-abuse benefits for more than 60 million people.
Beginning next year,the law will prevent health-insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing mental health conditions.
Many relate the recent shootings in Newtown,Conn.,and Aurora,Colo.,to people with mental illnesses.
Obama said mental illness can lead to tragedies and violence,but most of the time,it doesn’t.
“And I want to be absolutely clear: The overwhelming majority of people who suffer from mental illnesses are not violent. They will never pose a threat to themselves or others,” Obama said. “But we also know that most suicides each year involve someone with a mental health or substance abuse disorder. And in some cases,when a condition goes untreated,it can lead to tragedy on a larger scale.”
Actor Bradley Cooper,who played a character living with bipolar disorder in the movie “Silver Linings Playbook,” said that playing the character gave him a better understanding of the disease and prompted him to become an advocate.
“People would come up to me and share their struggles,telling me how they connected with this character that I played,and I think that’s what helped me to see that all of us are touched in a real,meaningful way with this illness,” Cooper said.
“It’s about helping people understand that they are not alone,that the thing that they’re feeling probably has a name,it certainly has a treatment,and that treatment works and it’s effective and it can change the way they live their lives,” Cooper said.
Vice President Joe Biden stressed that having mental health screenings become a routine part of regular health check-ups could help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health illnesses.
“It’s a lot easier for that soldier or that 19-year-old kid to,while he’s getting his physical,to also be getting mental health screening,” Biden said.
Biden said the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is expanding mental health services for veterans.
“Last August,the president directed the VA to hire 1,600 mental health professionals by June of 2013. Today,the VA announced they have met that goal,” Biden said.
There was a significant emphasis on young people facing mental health issues. Half of all mental health disorders appear before the age of 14,and three out of four mental health disorders begin during the early 20s,according to the government’s new website.
“Let’s use this moment to send a message to tens of millions of Americans,especially to young people and to parents of young people in this country,you have nothing to be ashamed of if you’re struggling with mental issues or if your child is,” Biden said. “Most importantly … there is help.”
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