Remarks by Vice President Harris on Mental Health and Wellness

The White House

Children’s National Hospital

Washington, D.C.

2:58 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon. Monique and I were talking backstage, and I was asking her about her work. And she said, “I — I can’t imagine doing anything else.” In the midst of all that all of you do every day and what you endure — and I asked you the same thing — “Would you do anything else?” — you haven’t quit yet. (Laughter.) And it’s because I know you’re not the quitting type, at all.

And — and I do truly believe that the work that all of you do is an extraordinary gift that you have and that you give. And so it was very important to me and to the President that we would be here today to say thank you to all of you. Thank you.

And, Monique, thank you for sharing your story and for the 16 years of dedicated service you have provided.

So before I begin talking a bit more about the issue of the importance of mental health, I do want to start by providing an update about the infant formula shortage.

The first military plane landed yesterday with more than 70,000 pounds of specialty formula, and the second will arrive later this week.

I know this is a scary situation for our parents and the caregivers who are taking care of these babies. Our administration is working around the clock to ensure that there is enough safe baby formula available for all who need it. And it is truly one of our highest priorities.

So, today — (applause) — okay, yes. And collectively, I know, one of our highest priorities.

We’re here today to talk about improving the mental healthcare and wellness of healthcare workers. And it is my honor to be here, of course, with our Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy.

Dr. Murthy, I will say that you have done extraordinary work over your career, and in particular, you have been tireless in the fight against COVID-19. And you have been — and I have witnessed it since the first days of our administration — a trusted voice throughout the pandemic. So, on behalf of our nation, thank you, Dr. Murthy. Thank you. (Applause.)

And I’m also very proud to be here with the folks who make Children’s National the outstanding facility it is: the doctors, the nurses, the healthcare aides, the hospital staff, and support staff.

All of you who have chosen to live a life that is a life of service and, in particular, a life that is about our children and healing them, protecting them, and caring for them in the way that you do, in the way that I know is very personal.

And I will tell you, I — I — most of my career — in fact, all of my career — children have been one of my main areas of focus — what we can do to protect them, to keep them safe, to protect their wellbeing, and to nurture them in all the ways we know we have a responsibility as a society to do.

You know, when we talk about our children — I know for this group, we all believe that when we talk about the children of the community, they are a children of the community. And in that way, we should all feel a direct sense of responsibility for their wellbeing.

When I was a young prosecutor many years ago, I saw firsthand how adverse childhood experiences can have a lasting effect on mental health. And for decades, I have fought to improve children’s health and wellbeing.

As District Attorney of San Francisco, I helped launch the Center for Youth Wellness to support children who were dealing with the effects of trauma.

And as Attorney General of California, I launched a new bureau of the California Department of Justice that I named the Bureau of Children’s Justice to protect children from the types of trauma that can have lifelong effect.

I believe that the work that you all do to help the children and families of this community and of our country is truly remarkable work.

For many of the people who come through the doors of this hospital, they spend time here that is probably one of the most difficult times in their lives.

And as doctors, as nurses, as staff, you provide life-saving medical care. And you also offer comfort at a time when it is most needed. Your compassion, I truly believe, is light in the midst of darkness, often. And you do so much to take care of your patients in their time of need, which is why I’m here to say we need to do a better job of taking care of you.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, brought increased attention to the mental health of workers in our healthcare system. And we have asked so much of you over the course of these last two-plus years.

Some of you held the hands of those who were dying on behalf of their loved ones.

All of you worked around the clock long before we understood how COVID-19 spread or what it did to the body. And before you were even vaccinated or had protective equipment — the kind you needed — you were still here doing this work around the clock.

You spent hour after hour, many in a windowless room, unable to speak about how you were feeling or only being able to speak with a small group who truly could understand what you were going through. But you did it nonetheless.

So there is an urgent need that we have, I believe, to address all of this and to address, of course, what has resulted: the stress, the burnout, the mental health challenges that you experienced most recently because of the pandemic.

Yet, I will also say, and we know, the problem existed, this burnout issue existed even before the pandemic. And I’d like to recognize and thank the unions who are here who have long been a leading voice on this issue.

And, you know, the term “burnout” was originally coined in the 1970s by a psychologist to describe the mental repercussions he experienced while working in a clinic.

The choice to dedicate your life to helping people is a noble one, but too often it requires that you sacrifice so much of yourself.

In 2019, more than half of all healthcare workers reported feeling burnt out. And that was — again, that was before the pandemic.

Each of you made enormous sacrifices to save lives under impossible conditions, which is why President Joe Biden and I are fighting to transform how mental health is understood, perceived, and treated for all Americans and, in particular, for our health workers.

You deserve access to the mental healthcare that you need. You deserve support and understanding when you are struggling. And you deserve working conditions that support your mental health.

That is why our administration has invested more than $100 million to expand mental health resources, including funding for healthcare organizations to create evidence-based programs around mental health and wellbeing for their employees.

In addition, we have dedicated $200 million to train the next generation of community health workers, including workers who specialize in mental healthcare and are also a trusted voice in their communities.

And today, Dr. Murthy released a new Surgeon General’s advisory to address health worker burnout. It will include practical guidance about how to make workplace conditions safer, and it will recommend eliminating policies that punish people who seek help for mental health or addiction.

I urge hospital systems and administrators to follow the Surgeon General’s advisory.

You know, the bottom line is this. On this issue of mental health, you know, one way to think of it is this: If you knew someone who broke their arm, you would help them. You would make sure they went to the hospital to get a cast. And after they came home — well, on their way home, you’d probably open the door for them, you’d help them when they got home to get the support they need to heal through the point that they are feeling pain and then just need to heal.

We have to do the same when it comes to mental health. I think for too long our system has failed to understand the significance of this. I think for too long, when we think about healthcare, we act as though the body just starts from the neck down, instead of understanding we also need to address healthcare from the neck up: mental health.

So, if you are struggling, please know you are not alone, that you are seen, and that you deserve to receive the help you desire and the help you need.

The President and I are fighting to expand mental healthcare for all Americans because everyone should have access to the support they need to thrive.

So, with that, I thank you all again, each one of you, for the work you do. You are the angels walking among us. Thank you. (Applause.)

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