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A united front on mental health

WASHINGTON -- The Gores and Clintons shared a stage for two hours at the White House Conference on Mental Health on Monday and took turns interviewing people who have struggled with mental illness as a patient, parent or researcher.

"This is the last great stigma of the 20th century that we need to make sure ends here and now," said Tipper Gore, who ran the show. She recently revealed that she had been clinically depressed after her son, Albert, nearly died when he was hit by a car in 1989 when he was 6. "I was not myself," she said of her own experience, until she sought medical help, including medication. "I'm happy to say that it worked."President Clinton asked Congress on Monday to ensure that Americans with mental illness get the same insurance benefits for treating depression as they do for treating physical ailments like asthma, and announced that the federal government would now make sure that employees are covered for mental illness just as they are for any other malady. On Monday, the government sent a letter to 285 participating health plans telling them they must comply.

The president also announced that 1,000 schools would get free satellite programming on dealing with students prone to violence and announced several other programs for mentally ill homeless people, elderly people and young American Indians.

"It's been too long since we've come together over something this real that touches so many of us," he said, and he praised the Gores by saying that while most politicians talk about family values, "no couple in public life has ever done remotely as much to try and figure out how to help families."

Tipper Gore, the president's mental health adviser, bounded onto the stage as if pumped for a political rally, giving the thumbs-up and even jumping a little at one point.

Sitting side by side for two hours, the family dynamic between the Clintons and the Gores, at a time when Al Gore has been portrayed as competing with Hillary Clinton as campaign season approaches, ranged from supportive to adoring.

Each nodded attentively at the others' remarks, and Tipper Gore introduced Hillary Clinton by saying that when it came to shedding light on new research about how the brain works, "no one could do that any better than the sunshine of all our lives, our first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton."

The first lady returned the compliment by saying, "If I had any voice, I'd break into 'You Are the Sunshine of My Life' and dedicate it to Tipper."