Obama begins push to bring mental illness 'out of the shadows'

President Obama urged people with mental illness to seek help on Monday as his administration unveiled new initiatives to reduce the stigma of depression, bipolar disorder and other conditions.

Obama spoke of bringing mental illness "out of the shadows" at a White House conference on psychological health that was held as part of the administration's wider campaign to reduce gun violence.

"Struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating," Obama told the assembled experts and advocates.

"We want to let people living with mental health challenges know that they are not alone."

Sixty-one million Americans, or about one in four adults, struggle with mental illness every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The majority of cases are never treated due to stigma or an inability to access care. The lack of treatment results in substantial costs to the economy and the healthcare system as victims of mental illness develop related chronic health conditions. 

Washington has put increased focus on mental health in response to a spate of mass shootings — including the attack last year at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. — and the rise in traumatic brain injuries in the military.

Obama noted that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, a number that has increased substantially in the last decade.

The administration announced a series of public-private partnerships Monday designed to increase discussion and awareness of mental illness.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, MTV and the National Association of Broadcasters, among others, are partnering up for a special public service campaign later this summer aimed at creating a national dialogue about mental health. 

The initiative also extends to schools, faith groups and the medical profession, and will include a new website — mentalhealth.gov.

Secondary school principals will be encouraged to hold assemblies on mental health by the end of the year, and the American Medical Association is working with members to integrate mental health screenings into their practices.

Civic leaders in Sacramento, Calif.; Birmingham, Ala.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Washington, D.C., are also planning community conversations on mental health in the near future. To draw media interest, professional football players with special training will participate in the discussions.

Monday's White House event brought together a wide cross section of leaders, including lawmakers, to discuss the challenge of improving mental health in the United States.

Dr. Wayne Lindstrom, president and CEO of advocacy group Mental Health America, pushed Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to complete rules on mental health parity.

The related law ordering insurers to cover behavioral health services passed Congress in 2008. Advocates have lamented the Obama administration's long delay in implementing it.

Sebelius said that her department is committed to finishing the parity rules "this year."

"That is within months of a final decision," she said.