WASHINGTON - Concluding a White House mental health conference, Vice President Joe Biden today called for teaching educators how to recognize mental illness in the classroom.
"We should be teaching … our educators to … recognize not all forms of mental illness, but those … that are like the Roman candles that go off that are totally inconsistent with any behavior that is considered to be appropriate," he said. "The earlier we get this help, the better we'll all be, and the better, most importantly, the patient will be."
The vice president said the U.S. needed to be "more imaginative" in finding ways to promote mental health.
"It just can't be a straight line. We've proposed a new $130 million initiative," he said. "Admittedly, it came out of the whole tragedy in Newtown."
Biden's comments came as he closed out more than four hours of mental wellness forums and TED-talk style presentations attended by roughly 150 lawmakers, health professionals and advocates. He thanked the assembled mental health professionals and, particularly, those involved with the "sacred obligation" of health care for service members returning from overseas deployments.
Pulling a folded paper from his coat pocket, the vice president revealed he'd tracked the number of casualties in Afghanistan: "6,582 dead as of this morning at 7:00; wounded, 50,832. But they're all the visible wounds. Doesn't count all the invisible wounds," he said.
Biden said his mother would say the audience was doing "God's work."
Actors Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper were also on hand for the day's activities. Biden jokingly scolded Cooper for landing him "great pain" on a recent diplomatic visit to Brazil's favelas with his family.
"My youngest granddaughter says, 'Pop,' she said, 'Bradley Cooper's in this hotel,'" he recounted. "And I said, you're kidding me. I said, 'That's nice.' She said, 'Pop, you're his friend, right?' Swear to God. Swear to God. This is my 12-year-old. I said, well, yeah, we're kind of friends. She said, well, Pop, you ought to call him."
"Honey, I've got to go meet the president of Brazil," he told the child.
Actors Close and Cooper came to mental health advocacy from markedly different paths. Close has had a history of mental illness within her family. Her sister's bipolar disorder and nephew's schizophrenia prompted her to start the health awareness nonprofit Bring Change 2 Mind. Cooper, conversely, admitted that he had little knowledge of mental health issues before his lead role in the film "Silver Linings Playbook," a fictional story centered on a released mental hospital patient trying to reconcile with his family and friends.
"People would come up to me and share their struggles, telling me how they connected with this character I played," Cooper said, mentioning he found one of his closest friends was also bipolar.