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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 29, 2002
President Says U.S. Must Make Commitment to Mental Health Care
University of New Mexico
Continuing Education Conference Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Access to Quality Mental Health Care
10:34 A.M. MDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much for that warm, New
Mexican welcome. It's nice to be back in this beautiful state. I'm
particularly delighted to be sharing the podium with a
remarkable American, Pete Domenici. (Applause.) He didn't finish
the story. (Laughter.) After I interrupted him, he re-interrupted
me -- (laughter) -- and gave me my marching orders. (Laughter.) I
said, yes, sir, Mr. Senator. (Laughter.)
No, I really enjoy working with Pete, and I appreciate so very much that leaders
such as Pete have been working to make America a welcoming place
for people with disabilities. (Applause.) The work is progressing.
We are making progress. But it certainly isn't finished. There's
a lot to do. And some of the greatest health needs and obstacles
and stigmas concern mental health. We are determined to confront
the hidden suffering of Americans with mental illness.
Pete and I share a lot in common. We love the southwest. We
care deeply about issues that face our country. And we both
married above ourselves. (Laughter and applause.) I love being
with Pete and Nancy, because their love and respect for each
other is so evident and so profound. And I love watching Nancy's
face, because it reveals, and is a window, into a compassionate
heart. And I want to thank Nancy Domenici. (Applause.)
I also want to thank Charles Curie for coming. Pete
introduced Charles. Charles is a good hand, and I appreciate him
being here. I also want to thank Phil Eaton and all the good folks
here at the University of New Mexico.
I'm so honored also to be traveling today with Heather
Wilson. Heather is a solid citizen who brings a lot of dignity to
the office she holds, and a lot of class. And I'm proud to call her
friend. I want to thank the state officials who are here, the
Lieutenant Governor, thank you for coming.
I also want to tell you about a lady I met named Lucy
Salazar. Where's Lucy, is she here? Lucy, thank you for coming.
(Applause.) It's kind of off the subject, but really not off the
subject, because one of the things I try to do when I go into
communities is herald soldiers in the armies of compassion, those
souls who have heard the call to love a neighbor like you'd like to
be loved yourself, and have followed through on that call; the
selfless citizens whose compassion for their neighbor is really one
of the things that makes America so strong and powerful,
particularly as we stand tall in the face of evil.
I like to tell my fellow citizens that if you're interested
in fighting evil which, by the way, we're going to do -- (applause).
But one way to help is do some good. And it's that collective
good that will define the true value and character of our country.
And Lucy Salazar is a retired federal government worker. She
teaches reading skills to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children
-- incredibly important. She helps those with disabilities
participate in the fine and performing arts. She volunteers
through her church. She is a great citizen. And oftentimes,
citizens such as her never get the praise they deserve. Lucy, thank
you for coming and representing thousands of people like you.
Millions of Americans, millions, are impaired at work, at school,
or at home by episodes of mental illness. Many are disabled by
severe and persistent mental problems. These illnesses affect
individuals, they affect their families, and they affect our country.
As many Americans know, it is incredibly painful to watch someone
you love struggle with an illness that affects their mind and their
feelings and their relationships with others. We heard stories
today in a roundtable discussion about that -- what the struggle
means for family.
Remarkable treatments exist, and that's good. Yet many people --
too many people -- remain untreated. Some end up addicted to drugs or
alcohol. Some end up on the streets, homeless. Others end up in
our jails, our prisons, our juvenile detention facilities.
Our country must make a commitment: Americans with mental
illness deserve our understanding, and they deserve excellent care.
(Applause.) They deserve a health care system that treats their
illness with the same urgency as a physical illness. (Applause.)
To meet this goal, we've got to overcome obstacles, and I want to
talk about three such obstacles this morning. The first obstacle is
the stigma, the stigma that often surrounds mental illness -- a
stigma caused by a history of misunderstanding, fear, and
Stigma leads to isolation, and discourages people from seeking
the treatment they need. Political leaders, health care professionals,
and all Americans must understand and send this message: mental
disability is not a scandal-- (applause) -- it is an illness. And
like physical illness, it is treatable, especially when the treatment
Today, new drugs and therapies have vastly improved the outlook
for millions of Americans with the most serious mental illnesses,
and for millions more with less severe illnesses. The treatment
success rates for schizophrenia and clinical depression are
comparable to those for heart disease. That's good news in America,
and we must encourage more and more Americans to understand, and to
seek more treatment.
The second obstacle to quality mental health care is our
fragmented mental health service delivery system. Mental
health centers and hospitals, homeless shelters, the justice system,
and our schools all have contact with individuals suffering from
mental disorders. Yet many of these disorders are difficult to
diagnose. This makes it even harder to provide the mentally ill with
the care they need.
Many Americans fall through the cracks of the current system.
Many years and lives are lost before help, if it is given at all,
is given. Consider this example -- and for the experts in the
field, they will confirm this is a story which is often times too
true: a 14-year-old boy who started experimenting with drugs to ease
his severe depression. That happens.
This former honor student became a drug addict. He dropped out
of school, was incarcerated six times in 16 years. Only two years
ago, when he was 30 years old, did the doctors finally diagnose
his condition as bipolar disorder, and he began a successful program, a
successful long-term treatment program.
And to make sure that the cracks are closed, I am honored to
announce what we call the new Freedom Commission on Mental Health. It
is charged to study the problems and gaps in our current system of
treatment, and to make concrete recommendations for immediate
provements that will be implemented -- (applause) -- and these will
be improvements that can be implemented, and must be implemented, by
the federal government, the state government, local agencies, as well
as public and private health care providers.
To chair the commission, I've selected Michael Hogan. Dr.
Hogan, I appreciate your coming, Michael. (Applause.) Dr. Hogan has
served as the Director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health for
more than ten years, and is recognized as a leader in this
profession. He has been focused, as a state official, on how our
mental health system works, and how it doesn't work.
I look forward to the Commission's findings. I look forward to
their proposals. I look forward to making progress and fixing the
system, so that Americans do not fall through the cracks. (Applause.)
The third major obstacle to effective mental health care is the
often unfair treatment limitations placed on mental health in insurance
coverage. (Applause.) Many private health insurance plans have
developed effective programs to identify patients with mental
illnesses, and they help them get the treatment they need to regain
But insurance plans too often place greater restrictions on
the treatment of mental illness than on the treatment of other
medical illnesses. As a result, some Americans are unable to get
effective medical treatments that would allow them to function well in
their daily lives.
Our health insurance system must treat serious mental illness like
any other disease. (Applause.) And that was Senator Domenici's
message to me at the Oval Office. (Laughter.) And it was Nancy's
message when we had them up for dinner. (Laughter.) And I want to
appreciate the fact that they have worked tirelessly on this problem.
I have a record on this issue. As the Governor of Texas, I
signed a bill to ensure that patients who critically need mental
health are treated fairly. Senator Domenici and I share this
commitment: health plans should not be allowed to apply unfair
treatment limitations or financial requirements on mental health
It is critical that we provide full -- as we provide full
mental health parity, that we do not significantly run up the cost of
health care. I'll work with the Senator. I will work with the
Speaker. I will work with their House and Senate colleagues to
reach an agreement on mental health parity -- this year. (Applause.)
We must work for a welcoming and compassionate society, a
society where no American is dismissed, and no American is forgotten.
This is the great and hopeful story of our country, and we can write
another chapter. We must give all Americans who suffer from mental
illness the treatment, and the respect, they deserve. (Applause.)
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
END 10:49 A.M. MDT