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Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day Event

Washington, DC
May 7, 2013

Thank you, Pam, for that introduction and for your outstanding leadership on these issues. 

We have no higher obligation as a society than keeping our children safe and protecting their health.  That’s our most fundamental task.  But when it comes to their mental health, we are falling short.

Three quarters of adult mental health conditions appear by the age of 24.  But too many adults fail to recognize the signs of mental illness in young people.  And too many kids don’t feel safe enough to ask for help.  When children do receive care, they often end up “aging out” of services and supports, leaving them vulnerable during the formative years of early adulthood.

We can do better.  We need to do better.  Early detection and treatment can make a huge difference.  When children get the care and support they need, symptoms subside, disability is avoided, and children have the opportunity to explore their talents, connect to their communities, and grow into successful adults. 

There are policy changes that can help.  Thanks to two historic laws – the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act – we’re expanding and securing behavioral health benefits for 62 million Americans. 

We’re already seeing tremendous progress. Because of the Affordable Care Act, 17 million children can no longer be denied insurance because of a preexisting condition, like depression or bi-polar disorder.  More than 6.6 million young adults have been able to go on their parents’ insurance plan at a critical age when we know behavioral health issues are likely to emerge or progress. More than 71 million Americans, including 18.3 million children, can now get free preventive services including screenings for alcohol abuse and depression.

And as Cindy mentioned earlier, today, our Department is providing guidance to states on how to provide effective mental health benefits to young people in their Medicaid programs.

Still, we can do even more. 

That’s why the President’s budget requests funds for Project AWARE, a program that will help teachers and other adults recognize the signs of mental illness in children. And it supports placing 5,000 new social workers, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals to serve our youth. 

But if we want to make a real difference, we need to do more than change laws and policies.  We need to change hearts and minds.

That's why the President has asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan and me to launch a national dialogue on mental health in the coming weeks.  That dialogue will seek to address the negative perceptions of mental illness that keep so many of our nation's young people from seeking care.  It will educate adults about how to recognize mental illness and what to do about it.  And it will challenge each of us to do our part to create a culture where young people feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.

Today, I’m pleased to introduce you to one very brave, talented young woman who understands just how important these goals are: Demi Lovato.

As an enormously successful singer, TV host, and actress – who, I want to humbly note, has more than 13 million more twitter followers as I do – Demi easily could have chosen to deal with her mental illness and substance abuse challenges in private.  Everyone would have understood if she had decided not to speak out about what she was going through.

Instead, she has courageously made it her personal mission to use her experience to help other young people who are struggling with these same challenges.  For millions of Americans, Demi is not only an encouraging voice and a powerful advocate.  She is living proof of what we know to be true: that treatment works, that recovery is real, and that people with mental illness can make incredible contributions to their communities and country if they get the care they need.

For her courage and commitment as an advocate, it’s my pleasure today to present this Special Recognition Award to Demi for being a “Passionate Advocate for America’s Young Adults.”

Thank you for being here, Demi.  And thank you for the message of hope and resilience that you both express and em body every day.