President Obama Hosts Mental Health Conference

man-looking-out-windowAs part of a White House conference on mental health, President Barack Obama has called for an increased national discussion on mental illness, saying the time had come to bring the issue “out of the shadows.”

“Struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating,” Obama said. “It begins to feel as if, not only are you alone, but that you shouldn’t burden others with the challenge.”

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The conference is part of Obama’s response to last year’s shooting massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. While the president emphasized that most people with mental health problems are not violent, he said untreated mental illness can lead to larger tragedies.

READ: Lessons From Sandy Hook: Guns & Black Mental Health

The agenda includes discussion of insurance coverage for mental health care and substance abuse, recognizing the signs of mental illness in young people and improved access to services for veterans. The overall goal is reducing the stigma of mental health problems and encouraging those who are struggling to get help.

Among 23 executive orders Obama signed in response to the shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 was a directive that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan launch a national dialogue on mental health. The conference is part of that, with Sebelius hosting the panel on addressing negative attitudes and Duncan moderating a session on successful mental health outreach efforts.

READ: Michelle Williams: “Depression Isn’t OK”

Obama announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct mental health summits nationwide to increase awareness of VA programs and link veterans and their families with community resources to support their needs. The conference also plans to tout improvements in mental health coverage under Obama’s health care law, including a ban beginning next year against denying coverage to those who are mentally ill.

The White House also plans to focus on commitments being made in the private sector to increase understanding and awareness. Several organizations that work with young people also are planning to make new commitments, including high school principals holding mental health assemblies, to YMCA instructing staff and camp counselors to recognize the signs of mental health issues in kids, to religious leaders launching conversations on the issue.

Mental Health Statistics In The Black Community

• Research suggests that blacks are diagnosed with schizophrenia five times more frequently than any other group.

• 50% of African Americans who suffer from the “blues” or depression do not seek help.

• More black men die from heart attacks associated with stress than any other ethnic group in the United States.

• Poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are 4 times more likely to report psychological distress.

• African Americans are 30% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites.

• Non-Hispanic Whites are more than twice as likely to receive antidepressant prescription treatments as are Non-Hispanic Blacks.

• The death rate from suicide for African American men was five times that for African American women, in 2005.

• However, the suicide rate for African Americans is generally lower than that of the Non-Hispanic White population.

• A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233%, as compared to 120% of Non-Hispanic White.

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