Struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating. But the truth is, in any given year, millions of Americans suffer from things like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or PTSD. All of us—Michelle and myself included—know a family member, a neighbor, or a friend who struggles with mental health issues at some point in their lives.
And yet, too many of our fellow citizens still suffer in silence rather than seeking help—something organizations like NAMI understand better than most. Today, less than 40 percent of people with a mental illness receive treatment. And even though three-quarters of mental illnesses emerge by the age of 24, only about half of children with mental health problems receive the care they need.
As a nation, we can do something about statistics like these. In many cases, treatment can help people who suffer from mental illness continue to be the great colleagues, friends and parents we know and love. But it will require all of us to act.
This past June, I hosted the National Conference on Mental Health at the White House—bringing together families, advocates, educators, faith leaders, local officials and individuals who have suffered from mental illness to talk about how we can raise awareness and make it easier for Americans of all ages to reach out.
We launched mentalhealth.gov, a new one-stop shop for easy-to-understand information about the signs of mental health problems, how to talk about mental health, and how to seek help. And dozens of private companies and nonprofit organizations made commitments to raise awareness and keep the conversation going.
But it’s not enough to help more Americans seek treatment; we also need to make sure treatment is available when they do.
That’s why, as part of the Affordable Care Act, we’re expanding mental health and substance abuse benefits and parity protections for more than 60 million Americans. New health plans are now required to cover preventive services like depression screenings for adults and behavioral assessments for children at no additional cost. And beginning Jan. 1, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny health care coverage to anyone because of a pre-existing mental health condition.
The 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance are already seeing new benefits and protections because of this law. And if you’re one of the millions of Americans who doesn’t have insurance, beginning Oct. 1, you’ll be able to go to healthcare.gov and comparison-shop between an array of private health insurance plans, just like you would if you were shopping for a car or an airline ticket. Millions of families will qualify for tax credits that will make private insurance even more affordable.
For many Americans suffering from mental illness, the Affordable Care Act will be life-changing. But we need organizations like NAMI to help more Americans understand what the law means for them, and why it’s important to sign up. If you know someone who doesn’t have insurance, encourage them to visit healthcare.gov and sign up for a plan starting Oct. 1. If you know someone who could take advantage of new benefits under the law, help them understand what’s available right now.
Organizations like NAMI have waged a long and sometimes lonely battle to change the way we treat mental illness in this country, and I want to thank you for everything you’ve done. I look forward to working with you to let more Americans who are suffering in silence know that treatment is available, that recovery is possible, and that they’re not alone.
President Barack Obama
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