(WHNT/CNN) — President Barack Obama kicked off the White House’s National Conference on Mental Health Monday by saying he hopes the event will elevate the conversation on mental health to a national level by “bringing mental illness out of the shadows.”
“There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love,” the president 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.”
In Huntsville local groups who work with mental health issues say there is a lot of work to be done. Still Serving Veterans, a non profit group that empowers Veterans and their families to transition into post-military lives, says the percentage of veterans dealing with mental health issues when they leave active duty is large.
(Find a full list of places that can help with mental illness below)
Monday’s event in Washington DC included remarks by Vice President Joe Biden and other members of the president’s Cabinet, as well as activists and celebrities Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper.
Cooper has become known as a mental health advocate and was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a man struggling with bipolar disorder in the film “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Close narrated a documentary aimed to fight mental health stigmas and helped found the Bring Change 2 Mind campaign, which works against mental health discrimination. Her sister, Jessie, lives with bipolar disorder, and her nephew has schizoaffective disorder.
The White House described the event in part as a step toward fulfilling the president’s promise to explore the relationship 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 in his opening remarks, quickly adding that there are also many perfectly healthy people who still resort to violence. “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 comes nearly five months after the president issued an executive action to “launch a national dialogue” led by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on mental health as part of his 23 proposals to target gun violence.
The conference will also feature remarks by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki on his agency’s efforts to address high rates of mental illness amongst military veterans. During his opening remarks, the president announced that the VA would be holding more summits like the one held at the White House to help veterans feel more comfortable discussing mental illness.
“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 1,600 new mental health providers,” Obama said. “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.”
At the conference, the White House will also commend efforts in the private sector to reduce the stigma of mental health disorders, and Sebelius will moderate a panel focused on negative attitudes about mental illness.
Duncan will host a session designed to show off innovative campaigns that raise awareness about mental health issues.
For steps already taken, the White House points to the Affordable Care Act, which the White House says expands mental health and substance abuse disorder benefits for 62 million Americans. The Department of Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, says it has hired 1,600 new mental health providers and started 24 pilot projects in nine states that help veterans access mental health services.
Where You Can Get Help
Still Serving Veterans: http://www.StillServingVeterans.org 256-883-7054
Alabama Vet Centers: 415 Church Street Building H, Suite 101 Huntsville Alabama, 35801 256-539-5775
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)