"The main goal of this conference is not to start a conversation -- so many of you have spent decades waging long and lonely battles to be heard. Instead, it’s about elevating that conversation to a national level and bringing mental illness out of the shadows.
We want to let people living with mental health challenges know that they are not alone, and we’ve got to be making sure that we’re committed to support those fellow Americans, because struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating. And I think everybody here who’s experienced the issue in one way or another understands that. It begins to feel as if not only are you alone, but that you shouldn’t burden others with the challenge and the darkness, day in, day out -- what some call a cloud that you just can't seem to escape -- begins to close in.
The truth is, in any given year, one in five adults experience a mental illness -- one in five. Forty-five million Americans suffer from things like depression or anxiety, schizophrenia or PTSD. Young people are affected at a similar rate. So we all know somebody -- a family member, a friend, a neighbor -- who has struggled or will struggle with mental health issues at some point in their lives. Michelle and I have both known people who have battled severe depression over the years, people we love. And oftentimes, those who seek treatment go on to lead happy, healthy, productive lives.
So we know that recovery is possible, we know help is available, and yet, as a society, we often think about mental health differently than other forms of health. You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal. (Laughter.) And yet, we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions.
The brain is a body part too; we just know less about it. 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. Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.
We see it in veterans who come home from the battlefield with the invisible wounds of war, but who feel somehow that seeking treatment is a sign of weakness when in fact it's a sign of strength. We see it in parents who would do anything for their kids, but who often fight their mental health battle alone -– afraid that reaching out would somehow reflect badly on them.
We see it in the tragedies that we have the power to prevent. 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. And there are a whole lot of violent people with no diagnosable mental health issues. 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.
We can do something about stories like these. In many cases, treatment is available and effective. We can help people who suffer from a mental illness continue to be great colleagues, great friends, the people we love. We can take out some pain and give them a new sense of hope. But it requires all of us to act. And there are a few ways we can do our part.
First, we’ve got to do a better job recognizing mental health issues in our children, and making it easier for Americans of all ages to seek help. Today, less than 40 percent of people with mental illness receive treatment -- less than 40 percent. Even though three-quarters of mental illnesses emerge by the end of -- by the age of 24, only about half of children with mental health problems receive treatment. Now think about it: We wouldn’t accept it if only 40 percent of Americans with cancers got treatment. We wouldn’t accept it if only half of young people with diabetes got help. Why should we accept it when it comes to mental health? It doesn't make any sense.
It’s not enough to help more Americans seek treatment -– we also have to make sure that the treatment is there when they're ready to seek it.
For years now, our mental health system has struggled to serve people who depend on it. That’s why, under the Affordable Care Act, we’re expanding mental health and substance abuse benefits for more than 60 million Americans. (Applause.) New health insurance plans are required to cover things like depression screenings for adults and behavioral assessments for children. And beginning next year, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny anybody coverage because of a pre-existing mental health condition. (Applause.)
For many people who suffer from a mental illness, recovery can be challenging. But what helps more than anything, what gives so many of our friends and loved ones strength, is the knowledge that you are not alone. You’re not alone. You’re surrounded by people who care about you and who will support you on the journey to get well. We're here for you.
And that’s what this conference is about. That’s why these issues are so important. So if there's anybody out there who's listening, if you’re struggling, seek help."
[Excerpt from June 2013 National Conference on Mental Health]
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