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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

President Obama Focus on Mental Health Care

Mental Health care and Mental Illness, in the past, has been the high profile focus of First Spouses.  

Perhaps, as a result of the relationship between gun violence and mental illness, President Obama is now speaking about how to support people who are seeking mental health treatment.

The massacre at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, raised awareness about mental health issues. Although little is known about the state of mind of the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who committed suicide, he was reported to have exhibited atypical social character traits.

Mental illness and treatment has received executive level attention from past first spouses:

Rosalynn Carter leads a foundation to support journalists who report about mental health care.

"Informed journalists can have a significant impact on public understanding of mental health issues as they shape debate and trends with the words and pictures they convey. They influence their peers and stimulate discussion among the general public, and an informed public can reduce stigma and discrimination." – Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter

Barbara Bush revealed her experience with emotional depression.
Barbara Bush was overcome by severe depression, but says she beat it in six months by losing herself in volunteer work, and it has never returned. "I would feel like crying a lot and I really painfully hurt," the first lady is quoted as saying .  "And I would think bad thoughts. . . . It was not nice." She added that the sickness came after a two-year stint in China by George Bush as U.S. liaison officer in Bejing, where the couple was together most of the time. That changed when he became CIA director back here. Bush said she went to work at Washington House, a center for the seriously ill, where she did jobs like changing bedclothes and washing patients' hair."

Tipper Gore, the wife of Vice-President Al Gore, spoke about mental illness.  "I believe every one of us — at every level of government and in every community — have an obligation to do our part to meet this challenge (to help more Americans with mental illness to reach their full potential)," she said in a 1999 speech at Dartmouth, in New Hampshire.

Nevertheless, prevention and treatment of mental illness continues to be the brunt of budget cuts, in large part due to the stigma associated with people who seek care.  Glenn Close, the actress. has been an outspoken advocate to improve mental health care.  "The truth is, the public perception of the (mental health) stigma has hardly budged," said Close, who has worked to reduce stereotypes.

Mental illness is simply not perceived the same way as other illnesses like cancer or bacterial infections.  

Unfortunately, people at risk for mental illness typically must exhibit symptoms before they reach out for help.  Ideally, those at risk for mental illness should access primary care and prevention before an exacerbation of symptoms, or after they're acutely ill.  

President Barack Obama is now on the record supporting access to mental health care.  He said Americans need to become more open about mental health issues, so that people struggling with problems are not ashamed to seek help.

More than 60 percent of Americans with mental illness do not receive treatment, many of them because they are embarrassed or afraid of being ostracized, Obama said, speaking at a White House conference on mental health.

"We wouldn't accept it if only 40 percent of Americans with cancers got treatment," Obama said. "So why should we accept it when it comes to mental health?"

Obama promised to start a "national conversation" on mental health after the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut school last year, although he did not mention the tragedy in his remarks on Monday.
Obviously, with "stupid sequester" budget cuts already forcing layoffs in corporations, where federal funds are a primary source of support, even the President's call for improved access to mental health care may wither for lack of funding.
Perhaps the National Rifle Association (NRA) could help. This organization should support mental health prevention and treatment. After all, it's unfortunately evident that many people die in gun violence caused by people who somehow gain access to guns, while exhibiting untreated mental illness symptoms.  
Moreover, President Obama's call for gun controls hasn't saved any lives. Restrictions on guns have stalled in Congress, foiled by a tough fight from the overly powerful NRA and other groups defending Americans' Second Amendment constitutional right to own guns. 
Treatment for mental illness is as important to preventing gun violence as are weapons regulations. Nonetheless, access to mental health treatment too often occurs after deadly crimes occur.  
Support for gun regulations and mental health care deserve the very same attention.  
Mental illness is common in America. Indeed, as many as one in five children suffer from a disorder, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

High profile attention to mental illness has not improved access to care. In fact, as attention to mental health and illness improves, the budget to support these initiatives continue to be flat or cut.  

It's time we close the circle and fix all three stools on the mental health conundrum.  Americans need to perceive mental health like physical illness. Moreover, the US Congress must act humanly to improve gun ownership regulations. so mentally ill people don't have access to deadly weapons.  

Finally, funding for mental health prevention and care must receive insurance parity with all medical care.

President Obama is joining the high profile names who are helping Americans to learn about the essential balance between mental health, mental illness, physical illness and good public health care.

Hopefully, funding the high profile attention is forthcoming as well.

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