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South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building

3:49 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  This is a great group.  I know so many.  Please, sit down.  Please.

So, I heard about this.  Actually, for a couple of weeks, I heard about it.  And I said, “I have to do it.”  Not much going on around the White House.  (Laughter.)  You know, we’re not too busy.

But we have the great Ben Carson.  Thank you, Ben.  That’s great that you’re here.  Where’s Dr. Drew?  Where is he?  Dr. Drew.  Did I do your show?  (Laughter.)  Did you have the greatest ratings you’ve ever — (laughs).  We had some good ratings, right?  Congratulations.  Everything going well?  It’s been a while.  Right at the beginning of this whole thing, right?  Good.  Thank you very much for all you do.

I want to just let you know how important it is — the work you do and what you do.  And I want to thank Joe for the job he’s been doing.  It’s incredible.  Kellyanne, thank you so much.

The White House Mental Health Summit — so important.  We’ve done things that a lot of people haven’t done, but this is one of the things that we have to bring up to date.  Because we’re way, way behind, in our country, on mental health.  And I think we’ve made a lot of progress in a short period of time.

We’re grateful to Secretary Alex Azar — done an incredible job.  His son is with him today.  Alex, where’s your son?  Look how handsome he is.  (Laughter and applause.)

And, by the way, speaking of Ben Carson, the job he’s done at HUD with some concepts that — if you were only in the real estate business, to head up HUD, you’d never be able to do what Ben is doing.  Because he’s brought some things into the fore that have been really fantastic, Ben.  So, thank you very much.  Incredible job you’re doing.  And I’m not surprised.  (Applause.)

My administration is strongly committed to helping Americans suffering from mental illness.  In the 1950s, there were over 250,000 — but it’s truly 550,000 — could be, probably.  You know, there’s no really accurate way of figuring it out.  But they’re looking at 610 [thousand]; they have numbers that are all over the place.

But these were people in mental hospitals and mental hospital beds in the U.S.  By 2016, this number had declined to 37,679.  They had a much more accurate number.  The first, they didn’t really know.  And the second, they knew: 37,000.  But it was anywhere from 550 [thousand] down to 37,000 beds.

Of the 11 million Americans living with severe mental illness, 4 million receive no mental health service of any kind.  Four million people.  There are more than one hundred and — if you look at it, over 100,000 homeless individuals.  And I think that number has to be much, much higher than that, Alex.  Wouldn’t you think?  They say over 100,000.  You look at some states, they have over 100,000 — one in particular– homeless individuals with serious mental illness.

And we must give major consideration to building new institutions.  You know, when I was growing up in Queens, in New York, we had a number of mental institutions.  And I’d look and I’d see these big buildings.  And all of a sudden, you go and you don’t see them anymore.  And you say, “What happened to all of those beds?  What happened to all of that work?  And where are those people?”  And in many cases, those people are living on the streets.  It’s much different.

And somebody made the decision a long time ago and they did it for budgetary reasons, but we have to take care of our mentally ill.  We have to help people that are having problems.

But I see it.  So many areas of — in Queens and other areas; New York City — you saw these massive buildings.  In some cases, they did great work, I guess.  Not in all cases.  But you don’t have them anymore, Dr. Drew.  You don’t have them.  They’re gone.

And you say — and these are thousands — tens of thousands of rooms.  And you say, “Well, we have more population now, and yet we have far less beds and rooms.”  So we’re doing something about it.

At the same time, we need to keep very dangerous people off our streets.  And we want to take care of the mental illness, but we have a lot of very dangerous people on our streets.

This week’s funding bill provides $3.9 billion for mental health programs — $3.9 billion — an increase of $328 million.

And my administration is focused on early detection, evidence-based programs, stopping the opioid epidemic — which is an incredible problem.  Just the drug epidemic, period.  You could say “opioid,” but you could still say “drugs.”  There’s never been anything like it.  And not only in this country, in all countries — in almost all countries.  And supporting our new law enforcement professionals, who are doing such a fantastic job.

We’re also doing screening for our vets for mental illness, which is something they haven’t done.  Our vets are being taken care of now better than ever before.

We had Choice passed.  This was something they’ve been trying to get.  For close to 50 years, they’ve been trying to get it.  Veterans Choice — where if you don’t see a doctor fairly quickly, you can go outside, get a wonderful private doctor, and we pay the bill.  It’s made such a difference.  You don’t see the problems that you were seeing at the VA.  So, that’s a tremendous thing.

But we have to work on a lot of different things in that world.  That’s a big world — between drugs, mental illness.  It’s all — it all comes together as one big problem.  And we’re working on it very hard.

And many of the people in the room are the leaders on that.  And I just want to thank you.  That’s why I wanted to come over and say hello and thank you — because you do a job.  You really are fully appreciated.  You feel you are underappreciated because you don’t see it.

But I’ll tell you: The people of this country respect you so much.  You have one of the toughest professions anywhere in the world, even tougher than Ben.  And Ben’s is tough.  (Laughter.)  Ben’s is called “housing.”  That’s tough.  You’ve got housing and plenty of other things on top of it.  You sort of have everything.

But I just want to thank you personally for the job you do.  It was really fantastic.  And thank you very much, all of you.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Appreciate it.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.


3:55 P.M. EST