Obama Calls for National Effort To Better Treat Diagnose, Mental Illness
During a White House conference on Monday, President Obama called for a national effort to better diagnose and treat mental illnesses, Politico's "Politico 44" reports (Epstein , "Politico 44," Politico, 6/3).
Background on White House Conference
The conference -- which aimed to support mental health care and efforts to reduce stigma often associated with it -- was part of the Obama administration's response to a spate of mass-casualty shootings in recent years, including those at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., last year. It also follows up on Obama's promise to start a "national conversation" on the subject after the Newtown shootings.
In January, Obama issued several mental health and health policy directives as part of nearly two dozen executive actions and proposals aimed at curbing gun violence.
The White House event also came just weeks after several mental health measures were left in "limbo" when the Senate pulled gun-control legislation (S 649) from the floor. Among the measures was a mental health first-aid training bill (S 153), a bill (S 195) to increase mental health access in schools and a proposal (S 264) to increase access to comprehensive community mental health services (Attias, CQ Roll Call, 5/21).
About 150 people attended the conference, including:
- Mental health and patient advocates;
- Health care providers;
- Religious leaders;
- Lawmakers; and
- Local government officials (Pickler, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/3).
During the summit, Obama touted Affordable Care Act provisions that require insurers to cover screenings for depression and behavioral assessments for adolescents. He also praised efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce wait times for veterans seeking mental health services.
Obama also called for an end to stigma attached to mental illnesses. "You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal," he said, adding, "And yet we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions. The brain is a body part too, we just know less about it" (Epstein , "Politico 44," Politico, 6/3).
Obama noted that better mental health treatments can reduce mass-casualty tragedies like last year's shootings, the Washington Times reports. "I want to be absolutely clear. The overwhelming majority of people who suffer from mental illnesses are not violent," he said, adding, "But we also know that most suicides each year involve some mental health or substance-abuse disorder. And in some cases when a condition goes untreated it can lead to tragedy on a larger scale" (Boyer, Washington Times, 6/3).
Also at the conference, Vice President Biden highlighted a $130 million initiative to train educators on strategies to recognize signs of mental illness, Politico's "Politico 44" reports. "So many people could be saved if we recognized this ... It's like cancer, the earlier you recognize it the greater the possibility" of treatment, Biden said (Epstein , "Politico 44," Politico, 6/3).
Providers, Advocates Weigh In on Summit
Following the summit, some mental health care providers and advocates wondered what the administration's next steps would be, according to Modern Healthcare.
Steven Horen, president and CEO of Koved Care, said, "It's great that we're focusing on kids but you have hundreds of thousands of people over 18 whose families can't compel them to get treatment against their will." However, he noted, "Nobody is talking about the impediments of getting people treatment under the current mental health structure."
Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Health, echoed Horen's sentiment. Rosenberg said the conference "did a great PR job of taking down the barriers of getting people help," but the administration has yet to outline "practical steps" for providing the resources necessary to treat individuals with mental health problems (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 6/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.