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Six months after Newtown, Obama spotlights mental health

Actors Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper were among those taking part in a White House conference on mental health. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

Continuing his administration’s efforts to address gun violence and mental health in the wake of last year’s Newtown school shootings, President Barack Obama on Monday pledged that his administration will help “bring mental illness out of the shadows.”

“There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love,” he said in opening remarks at a White House conference on mental health awareness. “We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment, we’ve got to get rid of that stigma. Too many Americans who struggle with illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help.”

President Barack Obama addresses the National Conference on Mental Health Monday at the White House.

Obama’s remarks opened the daylong conference intended to increase awareness of mental health issues and combat the associated stigma that may prevent the mentally ill from seeking treatment. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki led discussions during the event, and "Silver Linings Playbook" actor Bradley Cooper participated.

Vice President Joe Biden – who has shepherded the White House’s efforts to address the gun issue – also delivered closing remarks.  

Emphasizing that the “overwhelming majority” of people who suffer from mental illness are not violent to themselves or others, the president alluded to mental illness as a factor in acts of mass violence – although he did not specifically mention the December 2012 shooting that left 20 children dead in Newtown, Ct.

“In some cases when a condition goes untreated, it can lead to tragedy on a larger scale,” Obama said. “We can do something about stories like this.”

In addition to addressing violence, the White House’s efforts are also focused on improving treatment for returning veterans who suffer from mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder. Obama announced Monday that the Department of Veterans Affairs will launch more than 150 community “summits” to promote awareness of resources available for veterans struggling with mental health issues.

Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Janelle Montano, a public mental health speaker for Active Minds, at a conference on mental health at the White House, June 3, 2013, building on the administration's efforts to combat gun violence and assist veterans.

“For many people who suffer from mental illness, recovery can be challenging,” he added. “What gives so many of our friends and loved ones strength is the knowledge that you’re not alone. You’re surrounded by people who care about you and will support you on the journey to get well. We’re here for you.”

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