Sikhs Join President Obama's Dialogue on Mental Health at the White House

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2013 — Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, and many prominent leaders across USA  were among those who gathered on  Monday at the White House for a conference on mental health. This conference was part of the Obama Administration’s effort to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness about mental health.

President Obama opened the event by describing how many people “suffer in silence” rather than seeking help: We see it in the veterans who come home from the battlefield with invisible wounds of war, but who feel like seeking treatment is somehow a sign of weakness – when, in fact, it’s a sign of strength. We see it in the parents who would do anything for their kids, but who often fight their mental health battle alone – afraid that reaching out would invite judgment or reflect badly on them. And we see it in tragedies that we have the power to prevent.

President Obama opening the conference on Mental Health along with Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Education and Veteran Affairs.

With these remarks, the President launched the National Dialogue on Mental Health, bringing together 150 mental health experts, a dozen members of Congress, mental health advocates and patients, educators, health care providers, faith leaders, lawmakers and local government officials from across the country and celebrities like Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper.  Vice President Joe Biden closed the conference.

Attendees at the conference

The White House has also launched a website,, with its tag line “Let’s talk about it.”

Cooper, who 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,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki also delivered remarks during the closing close the conference.

Bradley Cooper and Vice President Biden at the Mental Health 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 participated in the panel discussion on how to address negative attitudes about mental illness.

"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.

Many networking sessions were organized at the White House

Sikh Council on Religion and Education had brought together 20 community leaders and Sikh mental health professionals to join in a conference call with the White House recently to engage the wider Sikh community across US on this issue. SCORE is answering the President’s call to launch a national conversation to increase the understanding and awareness about mental health by organizing a national conference of Sikh leaders and mental health professionals later this year. The attendees of the conference call included individuals who are continuously counseling the families of the Oak Creek shooting victims and other members of the community in Wisconsin.

Bradley Cooper and Rajwant Singh during the conference on mental health at the White House

Dr. Rajwant Singh said, "This issue is of vital importance to the entire nation and Sikh community is a partner in furthering dialogue and awareness about mental health. This issue affects all Americans and we are ready to assist President Obama in this agenda."

He continued, "We, as a faith community, have a duty to reach out to all those who need help but are too often afraid to seek it because of the shame and secrecy associated with mental illness. South Asian community leaders ought to discuss how we can all work together to reduce stigma in our own gurdwaras and temples."

Obama had directed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to launch this national dialogue on mental health immediately after the Newtown, Conn. tragedy in December 2012. Sebelius hosted the panel on addressing negative attitudes and Duncan moderated a session on successful mental health outreach efforts during this conference at the White House.

Noting that less than 40 percent of people with mental disorders seek treatment, the President stressed the need to do a better job recognizing mental health issues, especially in children. Acknowledging that we must ensure that treatment is available, the President described how the Affordable Care Act will expand mental health care to 60 million more Americans, and he detailed new investments to increase the mental health workforce. He also noted how new investments in science, including the BRAIN initiative, should bring better treatments for those who need them.

The conference's agenda was broad and it included 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 for this national agenda is reducing the stigma of mental health problems and encouraging those who are struggling to get help.

The White House also plans to focus on commitments being made in the private sector to increase understanding and awareness, including a campaign by the National Association of Broadcasters through television and radio ads and social media. Several organizations that work with young people also are planning to make new commitments, including high school principals holding mental health assemblies, to YMCA instructing staff and camp counselors to recognize the signs of mental health issues in kids, to religious leaders launching conversations on the issue.

Georgetown University President DeGioia answering a question. Other panel members included Secretary Duncan and Noopur Agarwal, Vice President, Public Affairs at MTV.

The conference also plans to tout improvements in mental health coverage under Obama's health care law, including a ban beginning next year against denying coverage to those who are mentally ill.

Senator Al Franken and Rajwant Singh. Franken, who rose to national fame as a Saturday Night L ive writer and performer, is now a  senator from Minnesota.

Glenn Close and Rajwant Singh

There were five short presentations focused on successful outreach tactics on mental health. The presentations were designed to help conference participants learn about creative and effective ways to reach their own community, audience or membership about the issue of mental health. Each of the presenters highlighted powerful techniques that could be incorporated into efforts that combat stigma around mental illness and promote action to help the millions of Americans who need assistance recognize the importance of asking for it. For more videos and resources, visit


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