President Barack Obama issued a call on Monday to eliminate the stigma and the shame surrounding mental illnesses during a conference to push for a national dialogue on the issue.

"(W)e all know somebody - a family member, a friend, a neighbor - who has struggled or will struggle with mental health issues at some point in their lives," said Obama in inaugurating the National Conference on Mental Health in the East Room of the White House.

The event gathers representatives of state and local government, educators, health professionals, religious leaders and people who have suffered from mental health problems.

"Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see to it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health," the president said.

He cited figures showing that in any given year, one in five adults in the United States suffers from some sort of mental problem.

Obama especially emphasized war veterans, who often return to the country from their service abroad bearing "invisible wounds" and have a high rate of suicide.

"Today, we lose 22 veterans a day to suicide - 22. We've got to do a better job than that of preventing these all too often silent tragedies," he said.

He also highlighted the importance of identifying mental problems in children and said that less than half of the kids with difficulties of this type are receiving treatment.

Part of the reason for that, he said, lies in people's reluctance to discuss issues of mental health.

"We've got to get rid of that embarrassment; we've got to get rid of that stigma," Obama said. EFE