ObamaThe National Institute of Mental Health estimates 57.7 million people or 1 in four adults suffer with a mental illness in the United States. About 6 percent or 1 in 17 Americans are inflicted with a life-altering mental disorder. One of the barriers preventing many people from seeking clinical treatment for their condition is the stigma attached to mental illness.

President Barack Obama is dedicating administrative resources to bring the issue of mental illness “out of the shadows.” Speaking Monday at the White House conference on mental health, Obama requested a national conversation on mental illness from professionals in attendance. He also encouraged those with disorders to voice their distress rather than suffering in silence.

“Struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating,” Obama said. “It begins to feel as if, not only are you alone, but that you shouldn’t burden others with the challenge.”

The Associated Press reports:

The conference is part of Obama’s response to last year’s shooting massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. While the president emphasized that most people with mental health problems are not violent, he said untreated mental illness can lead to larger tragedies.

There’s been little publicly revealed about the mental health of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, although it’s been documented that other gunmen involved in mass shootings suffered from mental illness. Federal law bans certain mentally ill people from purchasing firearms, but the background check system is woefully incomplete and Obama is trying to get more mental health records included.

“We can do something about stories like this,” he said. “In many cases, treatment is available and effective.”

Top administration officials, along with actors Bradley Cooper and Glenn Close, were among those participating in the White House conference.

The agenda includes discussion of insurance coverage for mental health care and substance abuse, recognizing the signs of mental illness in young people and improved access to services for veterans. The overall goal is reducing the stigma of mental health problems and encouraging those who are struggling to get help.

Vice President Joe Biden, the president’s point man on gun violence, is scheduled to close it from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Around 150 invited attendees include mental health advocates and patients, educators, health care providers, faith leaders, lawmakers and local government officials from across the country.

Cooper and Close bring their advocacy and a celebrity buzz to the event.

Cooper has been promoting mental health awareness since his Oscar-nominated leading role as a man with bipolar disorder in last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” and plans to help Biden and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki close the conference.

Close said Monday that her experience is “a family affair.” Her sister, Jessie, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 51 and Jessie’s son, Calen, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at 19. In 2009, Close’s family battles led her to help start a non-profit called Bring Change 2 Mind, which produces public service announcements to fight the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. She is listed on a panel discussion on how to address negative attitudes about mental illness.

“What’s important is social inclusion. There’s a lot of stigma,” Close said in an interview Monday morning with MSNBC from the White House briefing room. She said her nephew feels his brain is healing and that he’s “living a full and wonderful life.” Close said her sister is doing well, “but what it would have meant to her if she had early diagnosis.”

“We need people living with mental illness with the courage to say this is what I am living with. I can talk about this,” Close said.

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