published Monday, October 21st, 2013

Kennedy's vision for mental health not realized 50 years after Community Mental Health Act




President John F. Kennedy signs a bill authorizing $329 million for mental health programs at the White House in Washington in this Oct. 31, 1963 file photo. The Community Mental Health Act, the last legislation that Kennedy signed, aimed to build 1,500 mental health centers so those with mental illnesses could be treated while living at home, rather than being kept in state institutions.
President John F. Kennedy signs a bill authorizing $329 million for mental health programs at the White House in Washington in this Oct. 31, 1963 file photo. The Community Mental Health Act, the last legislation that Kennedy signed, aimed to build 1,500 mental health centers so those with mental illnesses could be treated while living at home, rather than being kept in state institutions.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The last piece of legislation President John F. Kennedy signed marks its 50th anniversary Oct. 31, the transformative Community Mental Health Act.

The bill aimed to build 1,500 mental health centers to treat people while they worked and lived at home, rather than being housed for years in often-abusive state institutions.

Recent events including deadly mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard have focused public attention on how the nation is treating mental illness.

It's clear Kennedy's vision was never fully realized. While the legislation helped usher in positive changes, it was never fully funded so many of the sickest people had nowhere to turn.

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy is gathering advocates this week for the Kennedy Forum to develop an agenda for improving mental health care.

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