On Monday, June 3rd, President Obama and Vice President Biden hosted a National Conference on Mental Health at the White House. The Conference was a key part of the Administration’s effort to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness about mental health. During his opening remarks, President Obama discussed the expansion of mental health coverage in general, the President also addressed the impact stigma has on individuals in need of care.
As the President stated:
“…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. Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.”
The President directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to hold mental health summits at 152 VA health care centers across the United States, from Hawaii to Maine. These mental health summits will provide an opportunity for VA facilities to establish and enhance positive working relationships with their community partners. Furthermore, these summits will help encourage community engagement in order to better address and understand the broad mental healthcare needs of veterans and their families.
To help address the many issues impacting access to mental health, White House staff members from the Domestic Policy Council, the Office of Public Engagement, Joining Forces, and Dr. Biden’s Office participated in a breakout session with representatives from a number of organizations focusing on military family members. The organizations shared ways to improve mental health and well-being for veterans and their families in their local communities.
As part of the 2012 Executive Order, the Department of Veterans Affairs has hired over 1,600 mental health providers and more than 300 peer-to-peer veteran specialists. To supplement the VA expansion, members of the break-out session identified and prioritized new opportunities for formal pilots and collaborative models to increase local capacity in serving veterans and their families.
Lieutenant Colonel Archie Bates, US Army, is a White House Fellow in the Office of the First Lady