TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
June 9, 1999
Mike Wallace is an award-winning journalist whose career has spanned nearly 60 years. As co-editor and host of "60 Minutes," he is a visitor in many American homes every Sunday night.
While raising three children, working and going to college, Lynn Rivers won a seat on her local school board. In 1992, she graduated from law school, and two years later, she ran for Congress from Michigan, becoming one of only 13 freshman Democrats elected that year.
Tipper Gore, of course, is not only the wife of the Vice President, the mother of four and about to become a grandmother; she is also the President's Mental Health Adviser.
You might be surprised to learn that each of these well-respected individuals has suffered from some form of mental illness. Many years ago, Mike Wallace found himself embroiled in a long and difficult libel trial in federal court. But at the same time, he says, "I was on trial for my life." Although he found himself feeling "lower than a snake's belly," his own physician failed to offer any treatment beyond encouraging words. It wasn't until he ended up in the hospital that he was diagnosed with clinical depression.
Lynn Rivers says that the day she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder was the best day of her life. "It was only then," she explains, "that I understood that my pattern of manic activity, followed by debilitating depression, was not just some sort of character flaw or defect but caused by a biologically based disease that could be treated." Today, thanks to proper medication, Rep. Rivers functions normally, although she says, "I'm probably more aware than others of the need to monitor my health."
Some time after her son was injured in a near-fatal car accident, Tipper Gore found herself feeling low enough to seek help. She remembers, "I went to a mental-health professional, and I said, 'I'm not here as a friend this time. I'm not here as a volunteer for the cause. I'm here because I need some help.' And I was diagnosed with clinical depression." She, too, has been successfully treated with medication.
Consider these facts: At some point in their lives, 51 million Americans will experience a mental-health issue -- ranging from depression and anorexia to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But, primarily because of the stigma and shame associated with mental illness, only one in five will seek treatment. Depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide, afflicts more than 19 million people in this country alone -- 2 million of them children.
Mental illness is not something that happens only to other people. It touches all of us. Yet, although research, diagnosis and treatment have opened many new doors, the stigma persists.
This week, in an effort to fight this stigma, Tipper Gore chaired the first-ever White House Conference on Mental Health. There, along with Mike Wallace, Lynn Rivers and over 500 other advocates and patients, Tipper, the President, the Vice President and I announced steps to break down the myths and misperceptions surrounding mental illness, highlight new treatments and encourage Americans to get the help they need. The President's proposals would strive to put mental illness on a par with physical illness, improve research and expand community responses.
For more than six years, this administration has worked to widen the circle of opportunity for every American. But the hard truth is that, in too many places, mental illness is still misunderstood and feared.
We need to listen carefully to the words of Dr. Stephen Hyman, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, when he says, "These are real illnesses of a real organ -- the brain. We can make diagnoses, and these diseases are treatable."
Moreover, it is time to start adding up the costs of not treating mental illness. Researchers estimate that lost school days and workdays, violent behavior, marital distress and missed opportunities could mean tens of billions of dollars for America each year. Although insurance companies and businesses have resisted treating mental illness as physical illness, several companies and states are beginning to recognize that maintaining good mental health is actually good business.
Bank One, which has over 90,000 employees worldwide, started offering its employees comprehensive mental-health care and watched as its direct costs for treating mental-health concerns decreased by 60 percent between 1991 and 1995. The state of Ohio has incurred no extra costs since it began providing full mental-health parity for its employees.
I want to thank Mike Wallace, Lynn Rivers and Tipper Gore for having the courage to share their stories with the nation and the world. They remind us that with proper intervention and treatment, mental illness can be managed and its victims can lead normal and productive lives. In Tipper's words: "Mental illness is the last, great stigma of the 20th century. We need to make sure it ends here and now."
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
April 29, 1997