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.