President Obama's Mental Health Conference on June 3, 2013, got the long-overdue conversation started on mental health issues in America, but unfortunately lacked the commitment to funding and follow-through needed to truly help families and loved ones who struggle with this issue on a daily basis.
First, it's is important to give the President praise for bringing together big names to elevate awareness of the issue. From a host of cabinet-level officials to Dr. Norman Anderson, CEO of the American Psychological Association to actor Bradley Cooper, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a man struggling with bipolar disorder in Silver Linings Playbook, the right people were brought together to begin the conversation.
And the President deserves credit for saying the right things:
1. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover depression screenings for adults and behavioral assessments for children.
2. The majority of people who suffer from a mental illness are not violent and will never pose a threat to themselves or others.
3. There should be no stigma to seeking treatment for mental health issues.
4. The need for parity of health insurance benefits for both physical and mental illnesses.
But topics were avoided, perhaps too sensitive for this feel-good event.
Where is the continued portion of the conversation which outlines funding that is earmarked for mental health services? What about privacy issues that impact both families and the medical community? And what about asking insurance companies to better fund mental health consumers?
Not only did the conference avoid talking about these issues, it appears the media shamefully avoided writing about the event as well, as there was not another violent shooting or gun control bill attached to the conversation. Because as the President noted, mental health and violence should not be equated.
I take great pains to clarify that persons with serious mental illness are more often the victims than the perpetrators of violence, but why not navigate through this and take the fork in the discussion road toward funding for treatment, recovery and support for stabilization of this most devastating of illnesses. It is a disease, so let's call it that and move on toward research, relief of suffering, concern for loved ones who live with and suffer in silence as well. We have no problem doing that with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, so why not with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and other such diseases as well?
The President facilitated a starting point, but where will the Obama Administration go from here? During the conference, Vice President Biden remarked, "It's okay. It's okay to talk about it. It's okay to ask for help." Wise words to people suffering, but I hope the Administration will more than "talk about it."