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U.S. celebrates 50th anniversary of Community Mental Health Act

October 24, 2013

Americans are marking the anniversary of a key piece of legislation that drastically changed the way the U.S. health system addressed mental illness. It was 50 years ago – Oct. 31, 1963 –  that President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act. Kennedy’s legislation focused on community-based care for patients experiencing a mental illness as opposed to institutionalization.

President John F. Kennedy signs a bill authorizing $329 million for mental health programs at the White House in Washington.  Image courtesy of Associated Press.

President John F. Kennedy signs a bill authorizing $329 million for mental health programs at the White House in Washington.
(Image courtesy of Associated Press.)

The fallout from the Act was not all positive. Many patients formerly housed in institutions were released into the community, however, not all communities had the facilities or expertise to deal with them.

Regardless, mental health advocates say the 50th anniversary of the Act serves as a reminder that more can be done to address mental health in the U.S.

For example, former U.S Congressman Patrick Kennedy,  nephew of JFK, hosted the Kennedy Forum in Boston. The Forum brought together mental health advocates with a goal to expand the national conversation around  this issue.

“In the decades since the landmark signing of that legislation, the mental health community has made great strides,” Patrick Kennedy said in a statement. “But we have much more to do to honor President Kennedy’s legacy, achieve equality, and improve care for those suffering from mental illness, intellectual disabilities and addictions”

Discussions and presentations at the Kennedy forum included:

  • advances in mental health research and treatment
  • community approaches to mental
  • substance use disorders and intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • employment for individuals with mental and developmental disability

.Guests who attended the Kennedy Forum included Vice President Joe Biden, Chelsea Clinton (who chaired a conference panel on public health and community approaches to addressing behavioural health disorders) and Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who’s been treated for a personality disorder.

Read more about the Kennedy Forum.

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