The President Urges Bringing Mental Illness Out of the Shadows

Approximately 1 in 5 Americans struggles with mental health problems. About 40% receive mental health services. The most recent statistics show that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. The suicide rate has risen in every branch of the military. This year brought tragedy in the form of almost one mass shooting every month. Each shooting sparked national conjecture and debate about the mental health of the shooter. This may have spurred President Obama to address the issues of mental health stigma and coverage on June 3rd. The President was clear in his message that most people with mental illness are not violent; in fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators.

In his speech President Obama encouraged the nation to “bring mental illness out of the shadows.” He pointed out that our culture now speaks fairly openly about personal health issues (e.g. impotence, incontinence), yet the topic of mental illness still elicits such shame and embarrassment that it is often considered taboo and is ignored, making mental health problems hard to identify and even harder to treat. Stigma is not the only barrier to treatment. Some people have not been able to afford care because of inadequate insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders. While thankfully most people with group health insurance are provided coverage for these issues, 30% of people who buy their insurance independently do not have any mental health coverage at all. Up to 50% of these independent consumers receive no substance abuse treatment benefits. The Affordable Care Act will require insurance companies to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment at the same rate as medical and surgical procedures. No one will be denied coverage because they have a pre-existing mental health diagnosis.

The 2014 Fiscal Year Budget provides funds for early intervention programs including both diagnosis and treatment – crucial, since 75% of mental illnesses manifest before the end of adolescence (early 20’s).  This means that far more children with an emerging mental health issue will get treatment before it takes hold of their lives, possibly preventing a lifetime of struggle or suffering that extends far beyond that one person. The budget also provides support for veterans to access services in a more timely manner.

Additionally, the government has launched a new website dedicated to mental health (www.mentalhealth.gov). Its purpose is to de-stigmatize mental illness through education (debunking myths and providing facts about specific diagnoses), providing stories of hope, giving tips on how to start conversations about mental illness (with a loved one or in the community), and linking people with providers.