Mental health isn’t something our friends and family have to suffer with alone and without treatment, President Barack Obama said to attendees of the National Conference of Mental Health at the White House Monday.
“You are not alone. There is hope. There is possibility,” Obama said.
Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, the president has increased his focus on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. Many have pointed to undiagnosed mental illness as a potential factor in Adam Lanza’s deadly rampage at the school, which left 26 people dead.
Obama signed an executive order prompting the mental health conference as a response to the shooting in Connecticut.
“We can do something about stories like this,” Obama said. “Today, less than 40% of people with mental illnesses get help. We wouldn’t accept it if only 40% of people with cancer got help.”
Most mentally ill people are far from violent and instead “suffer in silence,” he said.
The president briefly outlined a plan to improve mental illness diagnosis, particularly in children, and making care more available to more Americans. He also announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs will begin hosting mental health summits for veterans and their families.
“The main goal of this is not to start a conversation,” the president said. “Instead, it’s about elevating that conversation to a national level and bringing mental illness out of the shadows.”
The Mental Health Conference will host panel discussions with Vice President Joe Biden and 150 attendees including educators, health care providers, Congressmen, local politicians, and people who have suffered from mental illness. Bradley Cooper, whose portrayal of a young man with bipolar disorder in “Silver Linings Playbook” earned him an Oscar nomination, and actress Glenn Close will also attend the conference.
On Monday’s Morning Joe, Close spoke out about her family’s struggle with mental illness and the isolation people with illnesses feel in society.
“There is still a lot of stigma, I think people can say ‘Oh, no, I understand, but I don’t want them to live next to me’,” she said.