Child Advocacy Award Remarks by Mrs. Gore


NOVEMBER 30, 1999

Thank you. It's wonderful to be here in New York City. I feel a close connection to all of you, since one of the youngest New Yorkers happens to be my four-month-old grandson Wyatt. Already, I can tell that he is a true New Yorker; when he wants something, he doesn't want it now – he wants it yesterday.

I want to recognize and thank Brooke and Daniel Neidich for their tireless work and thank you Brooke for your kind introduction. Jon and JoAnne Corzine, thank you for being such good friends. Tom Lee and Ann Tennenbaum, thank you for your contributions to the Child Study Center.

Also to Dr. Harold Koplewicz and the board and staff of the Child Study Center for the Child Advocacy Award, I am deeply honored and touched. But, it is really all of you who are truly deserving of this award for your passion and advocacy for the millions affected by a mental illness and for your very hard work to put into practice the ideals that this country was founded on—fairness and inclusion.

Your work is truly inspiring to both the Vice President and me. And that is why for so many years we have fought so hard to keep mental health issues at the forefront of our nation's public policy agenda.

I think Dr. Koplewicz's scholarship, advocacy, and organization are remarkable. He was such a wonderful and insightful guest at the White House Conference on Mental Illness last June.

Thirty-six years ago, America began grieving for an assassinated President. That same year, before his untimely death, that President said we had to return mental health to the mainstream of American medicine. Thirty-six years ago John F. Kennedy said it and today we're still fighting to meet his challenge. With your continued help, we can take the necessary steps to return Americans with mental illnesses to the mainstream of American life.

I began studying these issues many years ago when I was a student at Boston University. What struck me most was how hard it is to talk, either publicly or privately, about mental health issues to people. And that's because of one thing; the stigma—the stigma and the shame that is attached to mental illness.

If you will think back with me, we can remember a day when we could not talk about cancer. That was a secret in everybody's families. And how many people suffered, or didn't come forward for treatment, because that kind of cultural climate existed? Today, we all know what a pink ribbon symbolizes. The winner of the Tour de France bicycling race can freely and openly talk about his testicular cancer on the David Letterman show. We have made such progress, but one should be able to speak candidly, openly and freely about mental illness on late night talk shows as well, without it being part of 20 minute stand-up monologue.

I believe mental illness is the last great stigma of the 20th Century. We need to make sure it ends here and now.

Your work and dedication, the Child Study Center's research and programs, and the Administration's efforts are working. More of those who need care can get it. But, to break down the silence we must break down the myths and the illusions and the misperceptions that are associated with mental health issues. We must talk about mental illness in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, and with our colleagues. And we need and want to encourage more Americans to get the help that they need, because when they get the help that they need, and it's the right help, they can lead productive lives in their communities, in our society.

This is especially why we need to focus on children. If children feel they cannot ask for help because they are ashamed, they probably won't.

In our country today: 10 million children and adolescents have a mental health problem, two million adolescents suffer from depression, two to five percent of children in this country have a diagnosable learning problem, and one in 100 children are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia. These are serious illnesses with long term, negative consequences for children and families.

To this end, we are working hard and heading in the right direction. We have made progress in matching our desire to help those with mental illnesses with the resources we have.

Funding for mental health block grant increased 23 percent this year. $67 million more than last year. That's the largest increase ever. The Children's Mental Health Services block grants were funded at $83 million for this fiscal year. That's a $6 million increase. And we have doubled funding to combat school violence by developing programs to monitor, assess and improve children's mental health.

In 1997, the President Clinton signed into law the CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL INSURANCE PROGRAM, otherwise known as “CHIP.” This is an excellent program. But still, more than 4 million children are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled. That's why we need a policy of “Presumptive Eligibility,” which is a fancy way of saying “Act now, ask questions later.” In other words, if school administrators or community health officials see a child and know this child does not have health insurance, they can automatically enroll him or her in Medicaid. Medicaid, combined with presumptive eligibility, can save lives. If we can get a child who is feeling isolated or hateful or melancholy to a doctor sooner than later, we can prevent future tragedies.

On a larger note, this is why the Medicaid program is so critical to children. I believe we have a moral obligation to provide health insurance coverage and care to all children, including mental health benefits.

We need to do more. Indeed, we can do more. Today, an estimated two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems don't get treatment. Many of the kinds of comprehensive, family-involved services that could help them are just not there. Child psychiatric illness is real. It is the equivalent to physical illness. Early detection and treatment are both possible and necessary. I know the work of the NYU Child Study Center already makes and will continue to make a difference in the lives of children and families across America -- whether or not they suffer from a psychiatric illness.

I have been traveling around the country these past few months talking to young people about their lives and concerns. Almost all of them say that they know kids who are troubled. Most know kids who are depressed, or had attempted suicide. Some knew kids who were openly discussing violence. And one student said to me recently, “my friends know they need help, and we know they need help – but they are ashamed to come forward because they fear being labeled.”

If we are serious about stopping the violence and helping our children, I believe we need to erase the stigma that prevents our kids from getting the mental health help they need. If a child has a broken arm, we would take that child to an emergency room. And if we know a child is depressed or alienated, we need to take action—emergency action—as well.

All of us know how hard it has become to balance work and family, to raise children and care for elderly parents, and, at the same time, to monitor your own health, we need a comprehensive system of care so that children do not fall through the cracks. We know that kids want parents to bring less stress home from the office, focus more on them when the family is together. We need to work to make sure that our children's mental health needs do not go unnoticed.

We know that government can help, but it doesn't have all the answers. It takes communities, churches and temples and mosques, schools and neighbors. And surely, a start is being made…right here.

The Child Study Center is a tremendous leap forward in our nation's efforts to help children and families, whether or not they suffer from psychiatric illnesses. Soon, I understand you will be using the Internet to connect communities and schools and families. I want to commend the NYU Child Study Center and its professionals who are advancing the field of mental health for children and their families by providing education and information, by helping health professionals do a better job at delivering care to those in need, and influencing public policy.

Opening a new facility. Setting up a web site. Editing a book. I can't think of an organization that has done as much in as short a period of time to help children and families suffering from mental illnesses. So, thank you so much for this award. I am deeply touched by your effort and contributions, and I wish you the best of luck.


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