Aaron Terrazas/The Hoya Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) is sponsoring an act to have insurance companies cover mental illnesses. He spoke last night in the Philodemic Room in Healy.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) urged Americans to confront the existence of mental illness in a speech Monday at the Philodemic Room in Healy.

“You should not be frightened, scared or timid if you know someone with mental illness,” he said.

Domenici, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, had previously been scheduled to speak at Georgetown two times. But emergencies canceled both visits.

Antonia Gorence (COL ’06), Domenici’s granddaughter, introduced him by stressing her grandfather’s dedication to mental health issues.

“He is an outspoken advocate for mental disorders and today continues to update and improve mental-health laws,” she said.

Domenici began his speech by discussing his unique rise to political prominence.

“I was a real complainer at 32 or 33 years old,” he said. “My friends said `Pete, you complain too much and if you want to keep complaining you’ll have to run for public office’.”

Domenici was elected to the Albuquerque, N. M., city commission in 1966 and became mayor in 1967. In 1972 he became the first New exico Republican to be elected to the U. S. Senate in 38 years. He is currently the longest serving Senator in New Mexico’s history.

When the senator encountered mental illness in his own family, the issue became a pressing concern for him personally.

“After I discovered mental illness, I found something very, very wrong in our great land,” he said.

“When people started writing insurance policies, the problem was, from the very beginning, that mental illness was not included,” he said. “It wasn’t included because people didn’t realize it was a disease.”

Domenici is currently sponsoring the Senator Paul Wellstone ental Health Equitable Treatment Act. The plan would provide for parity in group insurance coverage between mental illnesses and traditional diseases.

“There are a number of people who are against the bill because it tells insurance companies they have to cover mental illnesses,” Domenici said. “Some say it will cost too much but in our great country there are some things you have to do.”

“There’s nothing worse than a piece of society that’s ill but not covered by insurance,” he said. “If we can get this passed, they will be covered.”

In addition to speaking about necessary legislation, Domenici also discussed practical ways to help people suffering from mental illness.

“We all have a personal responsibility to ourselves not to be afraid or scared,” he said. “We must help our neighbors if they’re having problems, encourage them, and not let them be afraid of going to the doctor.”

During the question-and-answer session which followed Domenici’s remarks, his wife Nancy Domenici reiterated the importance of helping others.

“If you know someone with symptoms and they are hospitalized, think of it as if they had been skiing and broke a leg,” she said. “Try to be more understanding and say you know it’s hard but you’ll do it with them.”

Many audience members felt Domenici’s speech was instructive and pertinent.

“It was really informative and a really important issue” Irene Walsh (COL ’05) said. “I think most people overlook the things he talked about.”

The event was sponsored by Active Minds, an on-campus group dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues. According to the organization’s president, Kate Hard (COL ’04), Domenici’s visit was vitally important.

“One of the things that I see is there are a lot of friends of people who don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to approach friends with mental problems. Basically there’s a lot of silence that surrounds the issue,” she said.

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