MENTAL HEALTH: Clintons, Gores Announce Major Initiatives
A "heavily promoted" White House conference aimed at the "myths and misperceptions of mental illness," kicks off today on the campus of Howard University in the District of Columbia (Mikkelsen, Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 6/7). The president is slated to announce a new federal mandate that the 285 plans in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program -- the nation's largest private insurance program -- cover mental health and substance abuse services on an equal level with physical disorders. Other measures to be announced by the president, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper -- a leading advocate and presidential advisor on mental health -- include:
- A "campaign to inform Americans of their rights" under the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act;
- A $7.3 million study by the National Institute of Mental Health on mental illness and treatment;
- A program to secure depression treatment for Americans over 65;
- An outreach program for mentally ill homeless people, including a $4.8 million study;
- An "interagency partnership to address the mental health needs of victims of violent crimes, including terrorism";
- A program to develop new strategies "to deal with mental illness in the criminal justice system";
- A program to combat stress in the armed forces, "estimated to affect 30% of those who have spent time in war zones";
- A five-year, $5 million program on pediatric mental illness or behavior problems;
- A five-year program on the mental health of Native Americans, who have a rate of suicide three times that of the general population (Branigin, Washington Post, 6/7). White House health policy advisor Chris Jennings estimated that the mental health parity measure would "add about 2% to the cost of premiums."
The Right Thing
Mrs. Gore, in a statement announcing the proposals, said, "To improve the health of our nation, we must ensure that our mental health is taken as seriously as our physical health. That is why we are taking new steps to break down the myths and misperceptions of mental illness, highlight new cutting-edge treatments, and encourage Americans to get the help they need" (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 6/7). Gore added, "One of the most widely believed and most damaging myths is that mental illness is a personal failure, not a physical disease. Nothing could be further from the truth." In his radio address this weekend, the president added, "The hard truth is, in too many of our communities and in too myth of our hearts, mental illness is misunderstood and feared. Too many people with mental illness are denied the opportunity to fully participate in American life" (Galvin, AP/Boston Globe, 6/7).