Michelle Obama Launches "Change Direction" For Mental Health Awareness, And It's A Necessary Conversation

As an extension of her work with veterans, as well as her experience working with Sandy Hook families, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a new mental health initiative, Change Direction, this week. The new campaign is aimed at reducing the social stigma surrounding mental illness, pointing out that along with being a policy issue, properly addressing mental health is a cultural issue, too.

In a statement on the White House website, the first lady noted that mental health conditions affect one in five adults, but people often don't seek the help they need because they're worried about the social stigma.

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. Then you add social, biological, and genetic factors on top of all that, and sometimes it’s just too much.

At the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Michelle told the audience that it's wrong to treat people with mental illness differently from those suffering from illnesses like cancer or asthma. “Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness,” she said, “and there should be no distinction.”

According to the AP, the initiative was launched by the nonprofit organization Give An Hour, which has put together a network of more than 7,000 mental health care professionals. Other organizations participating in the Change Direction campaign include the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The National Council for Behavioral Health, and Justice for Vets.

On the Change Direction website, there's a list of five signs someone is struggling with mental illness to watch out for. Those signs include: personality or behavior changes, agitation and anxiety, withdrawal from other people, risky behavior, or neglecting hygiene, and hopelessness, or seeming overwhelmed.

Michelle's interest in working to help those suffering from mental illness came from her work with the veterans' organization Joining Forces, which helps vets find jobs and other services. During her speech at the Newseum this week, Michelle told the story of decorated Navy veteran Ryan Rigdon, who returned from Iraq suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and contemplated suicide.

In Ryan’s story we hear the story of far too many of our veterans — the struggle to adjust to a new life. The terrors and anxieties that just won’t go away, even when they’re back home, safe in their own beds.

Mental health struggles are not unique to veterans, Michelle added; anyone suffering from depression or other mental disorders can improve their quality of life by seeking help and treatment. Connecting veterans and anyone else struggling with depression to resources will be the goal of the Change Direction initiative, Obama said.

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If you're struggling and would like to talk to someone, please call the Crisis Call Center's 24-hour hotline at 775-784-8090 or text "Answer" to 839863.

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