NASW Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Mental Health Message

Today, NASW celebrates the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s special message to Congress regarding the state of mental health in the United States.  President Kennedy’s remarks brought the issue of stigma, and access to care, to the forefront of his domestic agenda.  As a result of this initiative, the Community Mental Health Centers Act was signed into law, which funded the development of mental health centers, training programs, and outpatient treatment programs. The passage of this law ignited a series of responses from the federal government to address mental illness including mental health provisions in Medicaid and Medicare.

The country has made tremendous progress since 1963 in recognizing and treating mental illness. Recently, under the Obama Administration’s leadership with the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act, Americans now have greater access to mental health services. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will launch a year-long national dialogue on mental health in the coming weeks to focus on combating the stigma of mental illness by educating the nation’s youth, educators, and parents.  

While we celebrate this anniversary, NASW remains cognizant of the progress the nation still needs to achieve in order to more appropriately address gaps in mental and behavioral health services.  As President Kennedy noted in his address, “This situation has been tolerated far too long. It has troubled our national conscience–but only as a problem unpleasant to mention, easy to postpone, and despairing of solution.” At a time when mental health services continue to experience state and federal budget cuts, and mental illness continues to be misunderstood by society, NASW remains committed to raising awareness and advocating for sound policy to support individuals and strengthen our communities.


  1. Nancy Westmoreland

    I am a social work student in a graduate program. I am also the mother of a son with schizophrenia which is medically considered to be a brain disease with numerous theories on the causes. I have had to go through a nightmare to get my son the help he needs. He is currently on medication, but it is such a broken system. My mother dislocated her hip, and was given morphine, so family members were allowed to make the decision that she needs surgery. However, with my son, even in a psychotic state I could get no help. During his first psychotic episode he damaged my mother’s television, and has charges against him for that incident, even though my mother and myself have begged the assistant D.A. to drop those charges, since he has gotten help. My 76 year old mother cries herself to sleep worrying about my son, and I feel numb about the entire situation. When someone is psychotic they are too afraid of everything and not even in reality enough to seek help. I feel sorry for those individuals that are homeless and on the street because they have no family to help.While, I agree that people with mental health issues should live in the least restrictive environment, I do not believe it should be so hard to get them treatment, especially when the family members must care for them. If people knew how many people that are mentally ill and not receiving treatment because of the laws in place, it would blow their mind. I feel that as social workers we sought to help these individuals, but have ended up doing more damage. They end up in jail because they are psychotic and cannot make a decision based on logic. The family suffers because they have to fight the system to get help for their loved one. This is a barbaric act, as one in four will suffer a psychotic break during their lifetime.Until NASW makes mental health a priority this will continue. Do we want people who do not get treatment because they are not capable of making a decision that they would normally make in jails, dead, or homeless. I think not!

  2. JFK and RFK both wanted reform to empower and not to entitle. We can and should take care of our children to age 22 and our elderly at 65. Disabled? Yes, as well as our M.D.s Those who work from graduation to age 66 are on their own. That is what the good people of this country want. Those who work “reap what they sew”.

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