President Obama spoke at the White House today on the issue of mental health care, bringing together mental health advocates, educators, health care providers, faith leaders, and members of Congress at the National Conference on Mental Health.

Speaking of overcoming negative attitudes toward mental illness, a long-time challenge in the country, the President cited that 60 percent of sufferers fail to get adequate care - due partly to lack of access to care and partly to sufferers unwilling to admit they need help. Obama declared the need for more open and free discourse on mental health.

Panelists included former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, actress and founder of Bring Change 2 Mind Glenn Close, Active Minds speaker Janelle Montano, founder of Give an Hour Barbara Van Dahlen, and chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association (APA) Norman Anderson.

The conference, according to the President, had a critical goal - to make sure people are not suffering in silence.

We "whisper" about mental health, said Obama. "But there should be no shame in discussing and seeking mental health support."

The topic of mental health continues to be shrouded in stigma, isolating those struggling with a mental illness. According to national surveys, said Obama, 38 percent of Americans stated they are unwilling to be friends with a mental health sufferer and 64 percent are unwilling to have a co-worker with schizophrenia.

One in five adults each year are affected by mental health disorders, Obama added, but only a small handful of sufferers get treatment. And those who do get treatment often face shame and guilt.


Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who led the opening panel, named one new resource, the launch of, a website serving as a "one stop shop" to increase understanding of mental illness.

Obama also detailed some of the ways we, as a society, can do our part.

It's not enough to help Americans seek treatment, Obama said, but the necessary treatment needs to be in place. Pointing to the Affordable Care Act, he assured the law will expand mental health and substance abuse disorder benefits to more than 60 million Americans. Additional measures include new health insurance plans to cover behavioral assessments. Starting next year, insurance companies will not be allowed to deny anyone due to a pre-existing mental health condition, Obama added.

The President spoke of implementing tools for mapping the human brain, in order to help scientists and researchers better understand mental health and find treatment.

He also spoke of the need for better treatment and support for our veterans, who return from war with traumatic brain injury or posttraumatic stress disorder. Twenty two veterans a day, he claimed, are lost to suicide.


Montano, one of the conference speakers, cited her personal struggle with mental health illness. At age 15, she lost her brother to suicide; at age 23 she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. For too long, she claimed, she suffered in silence. She now works with Active Minds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and empowering college students about mental health.

Van Dahlen discussed the "invisible injuries" of war, the mental health disorders that many veterans feel too shamed to discuss. Through Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health services to veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, she seeks to ensure that mental health professionals are well-prepared to understand the military culture.

Former Senator Gordon Smith, now President and Chief Executive of National Association of Broadcasters, said of mental health, "It's not a Republican or Democrat issue, but human." In his efforts, Smith aims to professionally produce an ad campaign (to be released this July) that will address mental health and emphasize the importance of seeking help for oneself or a friend struggling with a mental illness.

Norman Anderson cited partnerships between APA and various organizations in an effort to raise awareness about mental health. The APA has collaborated with the YMCA to provide critical tools to employees to recognize depression and other mental health illness in children. Additional partnerships with the American Council for Education and the National Association for Student Affairs aim to improve mental health on campuses.

And through Microsoft's "Skype in the Classroom," technology will expose teens to mental health professionals. The live chats will be recorded and then distributed to schools who could not take part in the live discussions.

"What this conference is all about," said Obama, "is to understand that recovery is possible. There's hope."