President Barack Obama launched a national campaign last month to focus attention on mental health. He made that effort part of two other agendas: gun control and support for veterans.
The president placed the National Conference on Mental Health in this larger context, so that mental health does not become a distraction from the gun-control issue -- and so that the campaign will not further stigmatize people with mental-health issues and cognitive dysfunctions.
The nation must not criminalize mental health in an attempt to "fix" it, or as a response to gun violence. The Newtown tragedy did not occur because the gunman may have been at the low end of the autism scale.
It happened because an unstable, deeply unhappy young man had access to guns and ammunition magazines that no civilian should be allowed to buy. Such horrible killings cannot be addressed without sensible national limits on weapons.
There is also no question that the United States must invest in its mental health care system. An estimated 45 million Americans suffer from depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. The latter is on the rise among veterans because of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sociologists, mental health professionals and patients agree that mental illness is still stigmatized. At the conference, Mr. Obama said: "We know that recovery is possible, we know help is available and yet, as a society, we often think about mental health differently than other forms of health ... there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love."
He added that "what helps more than anything, what gives so many of our friends and loved ones strength, is the knowledge that you are not alone."