Politics
President Barack Obama shakes hands  in the East Room of the White House of the White House in Washington, Monday, June 3, 2013, after delivering opening remarks at the White House mental health conference. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Obama urges public to use government mental-health programs

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama urged depressed, stressed and disturbed Americans to depend on the U.S. government’s growing corps of taxpayer-funded mental health professionals.

“We’re here for you… If you’re struggling, seek help,” Obama said Monday, amid cheers from advocates and psychologists.

“In any given year, one in five adults will experience mental illness — one in five,” Obama claimed during a June 3 event held at the White House.

The broad definition of “mental illness” is set by the professionals who provide government-funded services to Americans.

In recent decades, the professionals have broadened the definition from severe, distinct and rare ailments, such as schizophrenia and compulsive behavior, to include a much wider set of personal troubles.

Those broader problems include stress and sadness, which are medically dubbed “anxiety” and “depression” by professionals.

The industry has also claimed to be able to help parents rear their children, many of whom are under pressure to perform well in school and to cope with difficult circumstances at home, such as divorce. Currently, 20 million people are unemployed or underemployed, and one-third of children are born to unmarried mothers.

Americans have typically responded to stress and sadness by urging stoicism, hard work, marriage, prayer and personal initiative, and by stigmatizing unemployment and passivity.

The industry’s professionals have long opposed those traditional responses, urged greater federal funding of their industry and sought to reverse public stigma against the use of their services.

“There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses… We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment, we’ve got to get rid of that stigma,” Obama told his supporters.

Because of public skepticism about professional mental-health services, “it begins to feel as if not only are you alone, that you shouldn’t burden others with the challenge,” he said.

Parents who should seek professional help for their children are “afraid that reaching out would somehow reflect badly” on their children, Obama said.

But “the main goal of this conference is … [to bring] bring mental illness out of the shadows,” he said.

The 2010 Obamacare law provides taxpayers’ funds to treat a broad set of mental conditions in the same way it funds treatment of cancer and diabetes, Obama said.

However, both cancer and diabetes are diseases that can be reliably detected using laboratory equipment, and their causes can be reliably treated with drugs or changes in behavior.

In contrast, except for the severe ailments, most ailments are diagnosed after a judgment by mental-health professionals.

With government aid, “recovery is possible. … We know help is available,” he said.

“In many cases, treatment is available and effective,” Obama claimed.

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