WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Monday called for a more robust national discussion on mental illness, saying the time has come to bring the issue “out of the shadows.”
Speaking at the opening session of a White House conference on mental health, the president said his goal was to let people affected by these issues know they should not suffer in silence.
“Struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating,” Obama said. “It begins to feel as if, not only are you alone, but that you shouldn’t burden others with the challenge.”
The conference is part of Obama’s response to last year’s shooting massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. While the president emphasized that most people with mental health problems are not violent, he said untreated mental illness can lead to larger tragedies.
There’s been little publicly revealed about the mental health of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, although it’s been documented that other gunmen involved in mass shootings suffered from mental illness. Federal law bans certain mentally ill people from purchasing firearms, but the background check system is woefully incomplete and Obama is trying to get more mental health records included.
“We can do something about stories like this,” he said. “In many cases, treatment is available and effective.”
Top administration officials, along with actors Bradley Cooper and Glenn Close, were among those participating in the White House conference.
The agenda includes discussion of insurance coverage for mental health care and substance abuse, recognizing the signs of mental illness in young people and improved access to services for veterans. The overall goal is reducing the stigma of mental health problems and encouraging those who are struggling to get help.
Vice President Joe Biden, the president’s point man on gun violence, is scheduled to close it from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Around 150 invited attendees include mental health advocates and patients, educators, health care providers, faith leaders, lawmakers and local government officials from across the country.
Cooper and Close bring their advocacy and a celebrity buzz to the event.
Cooper has been promoting mental health awareness since his Oscar-nominated leading role as a man with bipolar disorder in last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” and plans to help Biden and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki close the conference.