Mental health is a national priority

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President Obama must appoint a dedicated person to oversee the development of a national plan for mental health. Vice President Biden has been charged with advancing the president's agenda on gun safety. Reform of our mental health care system demands comparable leadership. There are many qualified people who can perform this task if they report directly to the President. But the president must identify someone with the knowledge, the passion and the political savvy to get the ball rolling on meaningful mental health reform. I would specifically note Dr. Herbert Pardes, a physician and psychiatrist who was CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and formerly led both the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association, and Dr. Gary Goldstein, president and chief executive officer of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, and professor of neurology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine.

Increased and improved mental health services at the local level has to happen. Our schools are failing to identify and engage troubled young people, especially those whose problems are not obvious. There is a woeful lack of other community-based mental health resources for people with mental illness and their families. Parents must be active partners in this process, working with the schools and other local groups to ensure that their children are identified, evaluated and connected with the services and supports that are available. They cannot wait until it is too late to avoid a tragedy.

Mental health is inherent to overall health. As a nation, we must view it this way.

Over the past week, the President has been forceful in his focus on gun safety regulations and our need to address the mental health care system. These are both critical efforts and the former cannot take precedence over the later.

The president backed up his words on gun control by appointing Vice President Biden to drive a legislative effort; now he must appoint a person of comparable stature to drive the mental health reform and legislative process.

Wright is the co-founder of Autism Speaks and the former CEO of NBC Universal.

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