Not only did she launch initiatives supporting those with mental health conditions, she also freely encouraged the nation to discuss and seek help for any psychological health issues, reducing stigma against these conditions along the way.
Below are just some of the ways Obama advocated for change and shattered the stigma surrounding mental illness.
1. The time she spoke out for children’s mental health.
Adults aren’t the only ones who experience mental health conditions ― something Obama was adamant in pointing out.
Supporting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s effort to bring more awareness to children’s mental health, the first lady wrote a moving essay about the importance of parental involvement in kids’ emotional wellbeing.
“We need to learn to identify the signs of mental-health issues. We need to have the courage to reach out and have tough conversations with our friends and family members — and get help ourselves when we need it,” Obama wrote in a HuffPost U.K. blog.
2. When she urged veterans to get treated for PTSD.
Back in 2011, Obama teamed up with Jill Biden to create Joining Forces, an initiative that partially focuses on encouraging veterans to get mental health treatment. She’s also been vocal about the need for the country to help veterans know that it’s okay to seek help.
“When we do come across someone who is struggling ... we have to develop a culture of open arms and acceptance so that they feel comfortable saying, ‘I’m a veteran. And by the way, I need little help,’” she told Glamour magazine in 2015. “This is something we need to do in this country around mental health as a whole ― de-stigmatizing mental health.”
3. When she made this important point about self care.
People often prioritize others’ needs before their own which results in them neglecting their own mental health. This is especially true for women, Obama said.
“Women in particular need to keep an eye on their physical and mental health, because if we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves,” she said, according to Vogue. “We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to-do’ list.”
4. And when she equated physical and mental health.
The first lady laid out the hypocrisy of the shame surrounding mental illness by comparing it to physical illness in a 2015 speech as part of her mental health campaign, Change Direction.
“When it comes to mental health conditions, we often treat them differently from other diseases like cancer, diabetes or asthma,” she said. “Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.”
5. The time she normalized therapy.
In the same Change Direction speech, Obama also praised the benefits of medical support.
“It’s time to tell everyone who’s dealing with a mental health issue that they’re not alone, and that getting support and treatment isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength,” she said.
6. And when she shut down negative mental health stereotypes.
The first lady did not stand for prejudice against those with a mental health disorder. In a 2016 interview with Prevention magazine, she stated that she found the stigma baffling and called for acceptance instead. Most importantly, she stressed that mental illness doesn’t make a person weak or flawed.
“The stigma around talking about mental health and getting help for it just doesn’t make any sense,” she told Prevention. “This is an issue that affects us all.”
We’ll miss you, FLOTUS. Oh so much.