By Kathleen Sebelius
Here's a number that should give every American pause: 60 percent. That's the share of Americans with mental health conditions who don't receive the help they need.
In the aftermath of the tragedy at Newtown, we have an opportunity to address this failing. Recent legislation, which expands and secures mental health benefits for 62 million Americans, will help. So will additional actions proposed by the President that will help connect people with support services during the formative years when mental illness is most likely to first appear.
But let's be clear. Reducing barriers in the health care system isn't enough. Too many people today fail to get the help they need simply because they're afraid to ask--or because those around them don't notice the signs until it's too late.
When we see someone having a heart attack, our reaction is to rush to help. Yet when we see someone in the middle of a psychotic or major depressive episode, our instinct is often to keep our head down and walk the other way.
This is true not just for strangers, but also for our loved ones. Too often, we fail to offer support. We blame the person with the illness. We tell people to toughen up.
If we're really going to turn a corner, we need to create a culture in which people are able to talk openly about mental illness and those with mental illness and their families are able to seek help.
That's why the President asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan and me to launch a national dialogue on mental health. The national dialogue will encourage community conversations around the country to raise awareness about mental health, and reduce the fear, shame, and misperceptions that often prevent people from getting the help they need.
We need to let people know it's okay to talk about mental illness if they are struggling and urge them to seek help if they need it. We need to encourage people to reach out to friends or loved ones who are struggling. And we need to give people hope by letting them know that treatment is effective and people do recover.
While we know that the vast majority of Americans who struggle with a mental illness are not violent, we also know we must do much more to ensure that those with mental illness get the care they need. That will only happen if we bring mental illness out of the shadows once and for all. All of us--parents, teachers, faith leaders, health providers, neighbors, and friends--have a role to play in making this happen.