National Alliance for the Mentally Ill


JULY 16, 1998

Thank you all so much. And thank you Laurie for your generous words and for your leadership and advocacy on behalf of the mentally ill.

I want you to know that I am deeply grateful and flattered to receive this award. As I look around this ballroom, filled with individuals who have dedicated a lifetime to working to assist people with mental illness, I feel I should be accepting this honor for each of you.

After all, without your individual and collective efforts, there would be far less hope; there would be far less understanding; and there would be far less progress in the battle against these insidious brain diseases. Just look how far we have come in the science of brain diseases and in community-based services for people with these illnesses.

For far too many years, little was known about how mental illnesses arise, how they can be treated, and what services can help along the road to recovery. There are a great number of wrongs that need to be righted when it comes to mental illness. I'm talking about discrimination. I'm talking about stigma. And I'm talking about how mental illness has been segregated from other illnesses and trivialized, even though it is as painful as heart disease and as disabling as a stroke. And we must also understand the effects of mental illnesses on the whole family.

When I first approached this subject, what confused and confounded me was why mental illnesses -- severe debilitating brain diseases -- couldn't be discussed publicly; why they weren't the focus of scientific attention in the same way as cancer or heart disease; and why they were often trivialized as passing personality issues or character weaknesses.

These views are clearly at odds with the high-tech information age compassionate Americans we see all around us, who represent the 1 in 5 families dealing with a mental health issue.

Some of the answer lies in research yet to be done on the role that genetics and environment can play in the genesis of these most serious mental illnesses. Some of the answer lies in better access to the full range of needed health care!!

Some of the answer lies in improved medications and the identification of service programs that foster recovery and individual resilience.

And some of the answer lies in ending the stigma still attached to these disorders -- a stigma that somehow seems to remain whether you call them severe mental illnesses or brain diseases, mental health problems or emotional disorders. And, sadly, while we are closer to the answer, we still have quite a distance to go.

Discrimination goes against the principles that this country was founded on. Discrimination in any form is unfair and is an issue worth fighting for -- as important as our fight for civil rights and equal rights -- and I'm here to fight for this with you.

Not too long ago, people didn't speak of having experienced breast cancer. Many were afraid to utter the word itself! But education, a growing array of chemotherapeutics, and wide-ranging publicity helped turn public opinion and attitudes around. More recently, the same phenomenon occurred for prostate cancer. And it is happening in the behavioral health field today!

We need the same kind of savvy media campaigns that have benefitted breast cancer and prostate cancer awareness and treatment because too often we hear only about the tragedies associated with people with mental illness. But for each tragedy, there are many stories of triumph -- lifetimes of triumph. And slowly, those stories are becoming known, too, thanks in large part to your work to educate the public by educating the media.

Over the years, we've made a great deal of progress! Twenty years ago, the Carter Administration engineered adoption of the groundbreaking Mental Health Systems Act -- only to have it reversed by those who would turn the clock back.

But today, with your help and community activism, we're beginning to turn the corner. More people with serious mental disorders are gaining and maintaining employment in their communities as I saw this morning during a visit to the Clarendon House in Arlington, Virginia. Importantly, they're also becoming increasingly able to live and earn a decent wage in their own communities, thanks to assisted and transitional housing programs. And the support of the community is critical to this success.

We have new generations of medications now available -- and increasingly readily accessible. And many of these medications are free from some of the terrible side-effects of years past.

Importantly, the Mental Health Parity Act is beginning to make a difference in the availability of both inpatient and outpatient treatment for people with the most serious mental illnesses. I am proud to be part of an Administration that has taken on the issue of mental illness in a significant way. We worked with you and a bipartisan group of Members of Congress to pass the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill to help individuals keep health insurance when they change jobs and ensure that people with pre-existing conditions are not denied coverage. We are commited to ensuring that this law is implemented fairly and that no plan is working to deny this coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

And with the historic Children's Health Initiative, which included mental health coverage in state plans, this Administration will provide millions of previously uninsured children access to health care, including mental health care, for the first time. And please join me in alerting the states to this fact.

I am also pleased to report that the Clinton/Gore Administration has increased funding for mental health research nearly 40% and for mental health services by 13% since 1993.

As you all know so well, one of our top priorities this year is to pass a Patients' Bill of Rights to make sure that the dramatic changes in today's health care system work for, and not against American families -- and that crucial health decisions are made by families and their doctors, not by bean counters.

Through a Patients' Bill of Rights, the President wants to ensure that Americans have access to specialists, including mental health specialists; that patients will be guaranteed a continuity of care so that consumers who are undergoing a course of treatment for a chronic or disabling condition can continue their course of treatment even if their health plan changes.

We also want to guarantee a remedy to people who have been injured or have lost family members because decisions were made in the interest of cost rather than a patient's health.

I know you have worked hard on this issue, too, and that you join the President and Vice President in urging Congress to act this year and pass a strong and enforceable patients' bill of rights.

And I am so pleased that our Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, has decided that mental health will be a top priority for him. He will be working on the first ever Surgeon General's report on mental health, expected to be released next year.

I'm not sure that we'd have accomplished all of this -- or even much of this -- without the early and lasting leadership of organizations like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the many people here today.

Together, we can continue to make good things happen -- from discovery to recovery -- to the benefit of the millions of Americans living with or at risk of severe mental illnesses.

Again, thank you for this honor and for all you do to make a difference in the lives of Americans with mental illness.

Mental Health

Discovering Ourselves: The Science of Emotion

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

Training for the Future

Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center

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