JFK on Mental Health: Still a Timely Concern

From Psychiatric News Alert: President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 Community Mental Health Act was signed 50 years ago, but it resonates with contemporary federal policy on mental health. Kennedy’s messages to Congress included references to financing mental health care in the same way as other medical services, the need to overcome mental health care disparities, a nod towards what would be called “recovery” today, and references to social determinants of health, said Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrator Pamela Hyde, J.D., at the Kennedy Forum Inaugural Conference in Boston October 24.

The conference coincided with other current policy developments in the care of people with mental illness, added APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D. “We have the Affordable Care Act being rolled out, the final rule on the mental health parity act being issued soon, and the symbolic inspirational power of the 1963 act, which was the first legislation to truly envision how mental health care could be provided in a much more humane and much more effective way in our society,” said Lieberman.

The Kennedy Forum’s event on the 50th anniversary of the Community Mental Health Act was a major step, but not the last, said former member of Congress Patrick Kennedy, the late president’s nephew, who convened the conference and who has spent his post-congressional career leading efforts to improve mental health and substance use research and services. To follow up, scientific, advocacy, and professional organizations are likely to unite to refine and clarify future directions for the public and Congress. “We need to determine what the policy priorities are, so we spend our time working on the things that have the greatest leverage to improve the whole world of mental health,” Kennedy stated.

To read more in about the work of Patrick Kennedy, see the Psychiatric News article “Kennedy Makes Suicide Concerns Focus of National Media Tour.”

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