Obama Calls for an End to Mental Illness Stigma

President Obama calls for openness in dealing with mental illness.

President Obama on Monday called on the nation to end stigmas attached to seeking mental health treatment. Given the rate at which Americans, including millions of young people, are suffering from some sort of disorder such as depression or anxiety, schizophrenia or PTSD, everyone has a friend or relative or neighbor who has struggled with a mental health issue.

Seeking treatment, he said in remarks delivered at the National Conference on Mental Health hosted at the White House, should be as routine as for any other medical problem.

"We've got to get rid of that embarrassment. We've got to get rid of that stigma," he said.

The day-long conference brought together health care experts, psychologists, veterans advocates, faith leaders and administration officials to raise awareness about mental health and spark a national conversation about the issue.

"You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal," he said in a wink to the seemingly constant stream of erectile dysfunction advertisements, "and yet we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions. You know, the brain's a body part too; we just know less about it."

The president didn't mention specifically recent gun violence tragedies committed by people suffering from mental illness, but made it a point to say that most people who have a mental disorder are not violent. He did, however, note what can happen when treatment is not received.

"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," he 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."

Obama also discussed the suicide rate among returning veterans at 22 per day, and called on the nation to work harder to prevent "these all too often silent tragedies." He announced a summer launch of 150 summits around the country to help ensure that veterans are aware of resources available to help them.

In addition, he hailed the section of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing mental health condition.

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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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