Spreading the message that it’s okay to talk about mental health
July 23, 2013
Earlier today I had the honor to join former U.S. Senator Gordon Smith and leaders of the National Association of Broadcasters as they launched a new public service announcement to raise awareness of mental health in America.
The PSAs will be broadcast on television and radio in homes and schools across the country. They will help spread the simple but important message that mental health is important and that it’s okay to talk about it.
And they are one of the many steps organizations are taking to participate in the national conversation on mental health that President Obama called for just last month during the White House Conference on Mental Health.
During the conference, I had the pleasure of participating in a great panel discussion with Senator Smith, actress Glenn Close, and other mental health leaders and advocates. We also launched MentalHealth.gov, a one-stop resource where people can find resources and see the personal stories of those who have overcome mental health challenges to live healthy, productive lives as loving family members, great friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
And it’s been so encouraging to see local leaders driving the conversation in communities across the country. Just a few days ago, civic, business, and philanthropic leaders in Albuquerque and Sacramento hosted community conversations attended by hundreds of people who discussed how to raise awareness of mental health and make sure others in their communities get the help they need. Google, Twitter, and Facebook are joining the conversation to help mental health organizations use social media to create new avenues for public discussion. And the Department of Veterans Affairs is leading efforts to help local communities host mental health summits to enhance the mental health and well-being of our veterans and their families.
These efforts are so critical because we all know we have work to do. Too often, misinformation and misperceptions lead to negative attitudes toward people with mental illness, and these negative attitudes can sometimes discourage our loved ones and colleagues from seeking help. And we know that mental health conditions are common – one in five Americans will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Yet 60% of people with mental health conditions and nearly 90% of people with substance use disorders don’t receive the care they need. Too often, they worry about the cost of treatment or a negative reaction from those around them.
A critical step to overcoming the culture of silence that contributes to negative attitudes and misperceptions about mental health is breaking down institutional barriers to treatment and recovery. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which builds on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, we’re doing just that by expanding mental health coverage and federal parity protections to 62 million Americans.
The President is also working to make it easier for young people to get mental health care, which is critical given that three quarters of adult mental health conditions appear by the age of 24. In addition to expanding access to coverage through the Affordable Care Act, the President’s plan would train more than 5,000 mental health professionals to help serve young people, train additional teachers and adults, and advance new strategies to make sure young people and their families continue to receive support after they leave home.
But even with greater access to care and new resources, people still need to be willing to seek help. Family members and friends need to know how to recognize signs and symptoms. Mental health needs to be an issue we can talk about openly and freely without the fear of being judged.
That means changing hearts and minds to break down social barriers to treatment and recovery. And that’s why the conversations Americans are having across the country in school auditoriums, community centers, houses of worship, and living rooms are so important.
In the past, even if we recognized signs of mental illness, our first reaction was often not to reach out, but to turn away. But because of a national conversation that we can all be part of, people can finally recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness. They can reach out and turn toward a friend or loved one. And they can show them that treatment works and recovery is real.
This is our shared work. It can end a culture of silence.
And it’s how we come together and bring mental health out of the shadows and into the sunlight once and for all.