Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

JFKs final act helps Community Mental Health

Posted: Friday, November 1, 2013

On October 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Act to federally fund community mental health centers and research facilities devoted to the treatment of mental illness. It was the last legislation President Kennedy signed into law.

“The 50th anniversary of the Community Mental Health Act gives us occasion to celebrate a vision for behavioral health that has been 50 years in the making and to bring it to scale,” said Kurt Carlson, Bowen Center chief executive officer. “JFK encouraged a bold new approach to mental health, one in which the cold mercy of custodial care would be replaced by the open warmth of community. He established a vision we still strive to fully realize for a community focused on prevention, treatment, education and recovery.”

In the past 50 years, new medications, psychotherapies, peer support and other treatment technologies have dramatically expanded the ability to treat a range of conditions. And today, more people with mental illnesses get treated than at any other time in history mostly in community settings.

“Yet, while science and public policy have taken giant leaps since 1963, as JFK warned, the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won. We haven’t realized the full potential of community-based care,” said Carlson. “Financing arrangements, clinical training and systems of accountability are often misaligned, and mental illnesses continue to be the largest source of morbidity, just as they were in 1963. In fact, between 1990 and 2010, the worldwide incidence of mental illness went up by 38%, according to a 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study.”

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy said, “The new frontier is here, whether we seek it or not.” He described it as one of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. In the new frontier, mental health and addictions treatment has parity with all other healthcare treatments. The Affordable Care Act is expanding mental health and addiction benefits to 62 million Americans. This will accelerate an already growing demand for behavioral health services and for care on request.

Behavioral health is becoming part of the new frontier of mainstream medicine, which is driven by science, said Carlson. Now, is the time to advance into the new frontier. We must embrace scientific advances, and advocate for public policies that emphasize prevention, early identification and ready access to treatment.