Stark co-hosts mental health meeting for Congress

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and so Rep. Pete Stark – ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and member of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus – joined today with caucus co-chair Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, to host a “Mental Health First-Aid” workshop for members of Congress and their staffs.

The comprehensive, four-hour session taught participants the warning signs of mental illness and gave them an overview of what those suffering from mental illness experience and how they can be helped.

“Education is the best weapon against stigma. One of the reasons mental health disorders can be so challenging to handle is because the illness often prevents the person from understanding they need help,” Stark, D-Fremont, said in a news release. “I know from dealing with situations in my own office how upsetting it can be, for my staff and my constituents both, when we don’t understand what someone needs or how we can help. Knowing how to recognize the signs of mental illness and how best to respond are critical to helping us provide the kind of service our constituents deserve.”

The workshop’s information was presented by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. President and CEO Linda Rosenberg and public education director Bryan Gibb explained how to recognize the most common mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and psychosis, and how to direct those that need help to care if those issues are detected.

“People may know CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, but the truth is they are more likely to come across someone in an emotional crisis than someone having a heart attack. Mental Health First Aid emphasizes that mental illnesses are real, common, and treatable, and that help is available,” Rosenberg said.

Despite the flurry of cheap shots about Stark, Democrats and mental illness that’s sure to ensue in this post’s comments, it’s no laughing matter. Stark’s office notes that one out of four Americans suffers from a mental health issue, according to a 2005 Harvard study; suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, according to the National Institute of Health; and more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have diagnosable mental disorders, often depression or a substance-abuse problem, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Yet while mental health disorders cost the U.S. economy $193 billion in lost earnings per year, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, state mental health programs were cut nationally by 4 percent in 2009, by 5 percent in 2010, and are estimated to be cut by more than 8 percent this year, according to Stateline.org.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.