June 4, 2013
President Obama Hosts Mental Health Conference At White House
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
On Monday, President Barack Obama hosted a conference on mental health at the White House, partly in response to last year's shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
In prepared remarks, Obama called for a national conversation surrounding mental health issues and suggested a new openness in American society´s attitude toward psychological problems.
"There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love," Obama said. "We've got to get rid of that embarrassment. We've got to get rid of that stigma. Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are suffering in silence rather than seeking help."
The event included actor and activist Bradley Cooper, who admitted to becoming an advocate for the cause only after playing a man struggling with bipolar disorder in last year´s "Silver Linings Playbook."
"It was really as if a veil had been lifted," Cooper said. "I realized that people that I knew, people that I loved and cared about, they were coping with this in silence."
While he never mentioned the Sandy Hook tragedy by name, the President signaled that the event was a step toward fulfilling his promise to investigate the connection between mental illness and gun violence.
"I want to be absolutely clear the overwhelming majority of people who suffer from mental illnesses are not violent," 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."
The conference also included the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) efforts to address the prevalence of mental illness amongst active and retired military personnel. The President said the VA would be holding more summits like the one held today at the White House across the country.
"They are partnering with 24 communities in nine states to help reduce wait time for veterans seeking mental healthcare and there they have met their goal of hiring 1600 new mental health providers," Obama said about the VA. "Which means this summer they are going to hold more than 150 summits like this one in communities all across the country so every one of our service members and veterans understand, just like you take care of yourselves and others on the battlefield, you got to do the same thing off the battlefield."
In a statement about the event, the White House noted that the Affordable Care Act expands mental health and substance abuse disorder benefits for 62 million Americans. Meanwhile, the VA has hired 1,600 new mental health providers and initiated 24 pilot projects in nine states dedicated to treating mental health issues among veterans.
"Let's use this moment to send a message to tens of millions of Americans especially the young people and the parents of young people all over this country," said Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the event. "There is nothing, nothing to be ashamed of if you are struggling with mental issues or if your child is or your spouse or your friend. It's okay. It's okay to talk about it. It's okay to ask for help. It is okay to acknowledge that it is frightening."