National Conference on Mental Health aims to reduce stigma, aid recovery, raise awareness.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left, and President Barack Obama listen to Janelle Montaño speak during the National Conference on Mental Health at the White House on June 3. Montaño is a public speaker with Active Minds Inc. NASW CEO Angelo McClain attended the conference, which is part of the Obama administration’s effort to increase understanding and awareness of mental health. AP photo
NASW CEO Angelo McClain attended the National Conference on Mental Health at the White House on June 3.
He was among 150 leaders and health care experts from across the country who discussed ways of working together to reduce stigma and aid those struggling with mental health problems.
“I was struck throughout the day by an emphasis on authentic storytelling as a way to reduce stigma about mental illness,” McClain said. “Many speakers, including President Obama, reinforced social work principles about serving people in their environments, and making compelling messages of recovery and hope easy to understand.”
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and top administrators, such as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius;
Education Secretary Arne Duncan; and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, participated in the summit. Hollywood actors Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper were also in attendance and each shared personal stories of loved ones struggling with a mental illness.
“The brain is a body part too; we just know less about it,” Obama said. “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.”
The summit highlighted positive strides taking place in mental health treatment:
- The Affordable Care Act will expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections for 62 million Americans. Starting in 2014, insurers will no longer be able to deny anyone coverage because of a pre-existing mental health condition.
- The president’s fiscal year 2014 budget includes a new $130 million initiative to help teachers and other adults recognize signs of mental illness in students and refer them to help if needed.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs has achieved its goal of increasing capacity by hiring 1,600 new mental health providers and establishing 24 pilot projects in nine states. It is directing 151 of its health care centers nationwide to conduct mental health summits with community partners, including local government officials, community-based organizations and Veteran Service Organizations July 1-Sept. 15.
In addition, the Obama administration announced the launch of a new website, MentalHealth.gov. It provides resources for those suffering from mental illness and it will highlight success stories from those who have received treatment.
Representatives from the National Association of Broadcasters, MTV, Give an Hour and DoSomething.org made presentations about new anti-stigma campaigns as well.