WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9)-- Actors Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper were at the White House today, adding some celebrity buzz to an issue they both champion: mental health treatment and the eradication of stigma that may still surround it.
They helped President Barack Obama kick-off a conference on the nation's mental health; the President says the time has come to bring the issue "out of the shadows."
"We see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical problems, some of them very personal. People laugh and yet we whisper about mental health issues," the President said.
Cooper 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."
Glenn Close's sister and nephew have both been diagnosed with mental health disorders; she calls it "a family affair."
Close said, "The amount of gifts of talent that we are losing because we are not taking care of people with mental illness is catastrophic."
President Obama pushed for a new focus on mental health treatment, as well as gun control, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But the White Houe also stressed that the majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent, and are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of crimes.
Beginning next year, under the Affordable Care Act, people with existing mental illnesses can't be denied health insurance coverage. President Obama's 2014 budget also calls for $130 million to help train educators to recognize early signs of mental illness in students.
Depression and suicidal thoughts can be particularly dangerous in teenagers; therapists say adolescents often have a hard time seeing a future beyond their immediate, overwhelming despair. In the last few weeks, two students at Montgomery County, Maryland high schools have taken their own lives.
"We know that it is often our young people who are at risk," says licensed clinical psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen, PhD
Dr. Barbara VanDahlen says parents, teachers, and peers need to reach out and offer help to a person who may be showing signs of worsening depression, hopelessness, and loss of interest in daily activities. She says many suicides can be prevented if the warning signs are recognized.
Van Dahlen also created an organization called "Give An Hour", which offers free counseling to another vulnerable population, our military service members, veterans and their families.
"It is this wonderful clearinghouse of mental health professionals willing to give an hour of their time to those who come home, and their families," says Van Dahlen.
"They go to our website, which is GiveAnHour.org and put in their zip code, and immediately see who (is available) in their area."
Van Dahlen recently wrote an article for Time magazine entitled"Our Shared Mission... to End Suicide". She also took part in the White House mental health conference today.
If you need to talk to someone right now, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is: