May 16, 2015
Dear Members of the American Association for Social Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association,
I am so honored to receive the Abraham L. Halpern Humanitarian Award – an award dedicated to a man who devoted his own life to advocating for the rights of others. I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Halpern, but I know he left quite a legacy. It is obvious that Dr. Halpern understood very deeply that our patients place their care in our hands and we should never lose sight of the fact that the responsibility to advocate for one’s patients sometimes takes a doctor well beyond the clinical setting.
As doctors, we are called upon to address the major public health issues facing our patients today. One of those issues is violence. It’s an important and timely issue and one that rightfully engages the medical community. Whenever large numbers of people are dying from preventable causes, that is a public health issue. We need to reduce violence in America.
We also need to ensure that mental health is understood for what it is: part and parcel of overall health. We must cast aside the stigma and barriers to access that keep too many people from getting the help they need.
When someone breaks their leg it is widely understood that physical therapy is part of the recovery process. However, we live in a culture where far too often seeking mental health treatment is seen as a source of shame. We must change this.
As Surgeon General, I will be your ally in the effort to reduce the stigma around mental illness and to advocate for better access to mental health care. I am happy to report that we have made progress in this arena with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to the ACA, people can no longer be refused coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Additionally, mental health and substance use treatment and screening – including domestic and interpersonal violence screening – are now covered as “essential benefits” in all new plans under the law. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
Thank you again for the great honor you have bestowed upon me by naming me this year’s Abraham L. Halpern Humanitarian Award recipient.
U.S. Surgeon General