Honoring Presidents Making Strides for Mental Health

obama-mental-health-rectToday our nation remembers how each President has shaped the past and continues to mold the future; three Chief Executives in particular stand out to Each Mind Matters for their contributions to mental health.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act. The first federal law to encourage community-based mental health care, the Act expanded service options for many Americans living with mental health challenges. The bold promise of the Act was to shift resources away from large state-run institutions in favor of community-based services. Speaking to Congress earlier that year, President Kennedy said the idea was to help individuals find successful treatment in their own communities and return to “a useful place in society.”[1]

President Jimmy Carter created the first-of-its-kind Presidential Commission on Mental Health in 1977, charged with recommending policies to overcome inadequacies in the nation’s mental health system. After hearing from hundreds of mental health officials and community members across the country, the commission found that:

  • “A substantial number of Americans do not have access to mental health care of high quality and at reasonable cost. We must develop networks of high quality, comprehensive mental health services throughout the county which are sufficiently flexible to respond to changing circumstances and to the diverse racial and cultural backgrounds of individuals.”
  • “The Nation will need to devote greater human and fiscal resources to mental health. [Current spending] is not commensurate with the magnitude of mental health problems and does not address the interdependent nature of physical and mental health.”
  • “There is an urgent need for a national policy that will alter the current balance of mental health expenditures in order to develop needed community-based services.”[2]

President Carter expanded his legacy on mental health by passing the Mental Health Systems Act in 1980, restructuring the community mental health center program and improving services for people with long term challenges.

In 1981 the Mental Health Systems Act was repealed, the federal government issued block grants for state funding of mental health services and the federal government assumed a low profile in mental health policy until 2015 when President Barack Obama introduced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Affordable Care Act for short.

The Affordable Care Act is the largest expansion of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation, by requiring that most individual and small employer health insurance plans, including all plans offered through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, cover mental health and substance use disorder services.

This year, President Obama put a national spotlight on the serious public health challenge of mental health stigma. In a national address, the President said: “We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone.” The President also shared a critical fact: “Individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.”[3]

This President’s Day, let’s encourage a conversation around mental health leading up to the 2016 Presidential election. Will our nation’s next president build on the forward momentum we’ve created through systems change and the empowering of the Each Mind Matters movement? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tell us what you would ask the 2016 Presidential candidates to do about mental health.


[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/20/kennedys-vision-mental-health/3100001/

[2] http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b4087615;view=1up;seq=14

[3] http://abcnews.go.com/Health/obamas-executive-action-means-mental-health-funding/story?id=36099975