Mental Health Month was established in 1949 to help bring attention to the importance mental health plays in Americans' lives. The observance provides an opportunity to look back at how far we've come, while looking forward to the work that still remains.
Just over 50 years ago President Kennedy called for a bold, new approach to mental health. This approach emphasized prevention, treatment, education and recovery, instead of shame and stigma. That call for action led to the Community Mental Health Act and federal investment in community mental health centers, which provided an alternative to institutionalization.
Medicare and Medicaid expanded coverage of mental health care. Groundbreaking research translated into life-saving treatment. Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act helped break down long-standing barriers in our hospitals, schools, and workplaces.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act made significant progress toward ensuring that a health plan that offers mental health benefits provides coverage that is comparable to coverage for benefits for physical health. More recently, the Affordable Care Act goes a long way toward ensuring that Americans have access to affordable health insurance coverage that offers mental health and substance use disorder services. Together, these laws will expand behavioral health benefits and federal parity protections to 62 million Americans.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, 17 million children can no longer be denied insurance because of a preexisting condition, like asthma or bipolar disorder. More than 6.6 million young adults under 26 years old have been able to stay on their parents' insurance plans at a critical time when behavioral health issues are likely to emerge or be exacerbated. More than 71 million Americans can now get free preventive services including screenings for alcohol abuse and depression.
The law is also promoting better care coordination between health care providers to help Americans with behavioral health conditions who also suffer from other chronic conditions, such as heart disease or obesity. New delivery reforms are promoting prevention and early detection. And new medical home models mean patients can spend more time with primary care doctors who can help catch signs and symptoms of mental health problems.
While America has come a long way, we still too often find it difficult to talk about mental health. When one in four American adults experiences a mental health problem in any one year, this means we are all likely to know someone who has been affected. Talking about mental health can help reach those in need and ensure that people benefit from the progress we've made.
President Obama has asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and me to start a national dialogue on mental health later this year. Our goal is to increase awareness about mental health, and reduce the fear, shame, and misperceptions that too often prevent people from getting the help they need. This should help make it easier for young people, adults, and families struggling with mental health problems to seek help and support.
All of us -- including teachers, parents, neighbors, and friends -- have a role to play in helping to increase awareness and breaking down the stigma around mental health. Now is the time to bring conversations about mental health into school auditoriums, community centers, houses of worship, and kitchen tables across the country. Together, we can bring mental illness out of the shadows.