Michelle Obama Promotes Mental Health Awareness

Life & Love | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 03/05/2015 | 12:15 PM EST

First lady speaks at summit to debunk perceptions of mental illness and emotional distress

First Lady Michelle Obama is lending her voice to talk about what is still a taboo topic in America: mental health.


At the launch of the “Change Direction” campaign, Mrs. Obama spoke before an audience to acknowledge that mental health isn’t simply a policy issue but a cultural one that affects millions.


In fact, more than 40 million Americans experience a diagnosable mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, reports ABC News. It is hope of advocates that there will no longer be a stigma attached to mental health care.


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"At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country," First Lady Obama said at a mental health summit. "Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it's still an illness, and there should be no distinction."


“Change Direction” is an initiative that encourages Americans to care for their mental health and learn the signs of emotional distress, which includes withdrawal, agitation, hopelessness, decline in personal care and change in personality, according to ABC.


Give an Hour, the nonprofit that launched the campaign, has developed a network of about 7,000 mental health professionals to provide services to those in need, including veterans and servicemembers. As first lady, Mrs. Obama has long been an advocate for veterans, servicemembers and military families through her Joining Forces initiative.


At the launch, the first lady pointed out that mental health conditions affect 1 in 5 adults, and that no one should have to worry about perceptions because they are seeking help for whatever it may be for.


"Life can be stressful," she said. "Folks are faced with all kinds of challenges. They are stretched thin at work. Their paychecks don't stretch far enough. Millions struggle every day just to get by."


The summit reportedly gathered leaders from the government, business and nonprofit sectors for panels on mental health at the Newseum in Washington.

(Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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