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The Presidential Debate: War, Peace and Mental Illness

ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 23, 2012 -- During the final presidential debate, in the war of words between President Obama and Governor Romney over U.S. foreign and military policy, there were three brief references to America's veterans.

Only once was traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) specifically mentioned.

"One of the terrible costs of war is mental illness," said Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). "It is part of the calculation every voter needs to make about war and peace."

"Too often, debate over Afghanistan and the Middle East or the defense budget occurs only in abstract terms. But it is also important to think about the human terms."

Earlier this year, NAMI released a special report Parity for Patriots: The Mental Health Needs of Military Personnel, Veterans and their Families, which outlined some of the human costs:

  • One in five active duty military personnel have experienced symptoms of PTSD, depression or other mental health conditions.
  • One active duty soldier dies by suicide every 36 hours and one veteran every 80 minutes.
  • Suicides have increased within National Guard and Reserve forces, even among those who have never been activated and are not eligible for care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • More than one-third of military spouses live with at least one mental disorder. One-third of children with at least one deployed parent have had psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and acute stress reaction.
  • The presidential debates have not focused on veterans or mental health care to any significant degree—despite the fact that one out of four American adults experience a mental health problem in any given year.

"The debates ignored important dimensions and distinctions about mental health care within broader issues," Fitzpatrick said. "That is not necessarily a surprise, but it still is a disappointment."

"The challenge between now and Election Day is for individuals and families affected by mental illness, and their friends, to keep working to raise mental health issues with congressional, state and local candidates and to encourage all voters to consider them in making decisions between candidates."

NAMI's non-partisan Mental Health Care Gets My Vote campaign advocates the following priorities:

  • Protect mental health funding.
  • Expand access to mental health coverage.
  • Ensure that effective mental health services are available.
  • Promote integration of mental health, addictions and primary care.
  • Improve the mental health of children, youth and young adults.
  • Meet the mental health needs of service members, veterans and their families.
  • Provide homes and jobs for people living with mental illness.
  • Eliminate disparities in mental health care.
  • End inappropriate jailing of people with mental illness.

About NAMI

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

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