That’s a really big deal.
It’s not everyday someone this prominent comes out to speak so frankly and sensitively about mental health issues. Of course, only two months ago, Rick Warren was movingly open about his son’s suicide after a lifelong battle with depression, and that ignited a long overdue conversation, online and (more importantly) offline, about the role of faith in mental illness. But Obama’s speech was still very valuable because it represents a government’s official position on the issue, and that is a really big deal.
There’s definitely a lot more to be done, but it’s a great step forward. (When will we get around to discussing issues like this here in Nigeria?) Check the video out…
The video is less than 15 minutes, but if you’re inclined, you can read a transcript of the speech. Here are my best parts (all emphases are mine):
The main goal of this conference is not to start a conversation — so many of you have spent decades waging long and lonely battles to be heard. Instead, it’s about elevating that conversation to a national level and bringing mental illness out of the shadows.
[Living with mental illness] begins to feel as if not only are you alone, but that you shouldn’t burden others with the challenge and the darkness, day in, day out—what some call a cloud that you just can’t seem to escape—begins to close in.
The truth is, in any given year, one in five adults experience a mental illness—one in five… Young people are affected at a similar rate. So we all know somebody—a family member, a friend, a neighbor—who has struggled or will struggle with mental health issues at some point in their lives.
We know that recovery is possible, we know help is available, and yet, as a society, we often think about mental health differently than other forms of health. You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal. And yet, we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions.
[There was some laughter at that statement about physical health issues, but the joke is lost on me. It occurs to me that it could have been a reference to Angelina Jolie’s recent masectomy, except that wasn’t really an advert, plus it wouldn’t be a very politic thing to say. But the expression on the face of the woman behind him was… Well, see it for yourself. It’s about the 3:32 minute mark.]
The brain is a body part too; we just know less about it. And there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love. We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment; we’ve got to get rid of that stigma.
And I want to be absolutely clear: The overwhelming majority of people who suffer from mental illnesses are not violent. They will never pose a threat to themselves or others. And there are a whole lot of violent people with no diagnosable mental health issues
We can help people who suffer from a mental illness continue to be great colleagues, great friends, the people we love. We can take out some pain and give them a new sense of hope. But it requires all of us to act.
Today, less than 40 percent of people with mental illness receive treatment—less than 40 percent. Even though three-quarters of mental illnesses emerge…by the age of 24, only about half of children with mental health problems receive treatment. Now think about it: We wouldn’t accept it if only 40 percent of Americans with cancers got treatment. We wouldn’t accept it if only half of young people with diabetes got help. Why should we accept it when it comes to mental health? It doesn’t make any sense.
Less than 40% in the US. I wonder what the figures are like here.
And beginning next year, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny anybody coverage because of a pre-existing mental health condition.
For many people who suffer from a mental illness, recovery can be challenging. But what helps more than anything, what gives so many of our friends and loved ones strength, is the knowledge that you are not alone. You’re not alone.
And in his concluding statement, these words of encouragement…
If you know somebody who is struggling, help them reach out. Remember the family members who shoulder their own burdens and need our support as well. And more than anything, let people who are suffering in silence know that recovery is possible. They’re not alone. There’s hope. There’s possibility.
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