First Kennedy Forum Panel Spotlights Past and Future of Mental Health Care

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Care For Your Mind is here today at The Kennedy Forum, and the daylong conference kicked off early this morning with the first panel discussion that looked at the historical significance of President Kennedy’s mental health initiative. This month marks the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s signing of the Community Mental Health Act, a law that provided federal funding for community mental health centers in the United States. In addition, it helped raise the conversation around mental illness in this country.

Mental Health and the Civil Rights Movement

The discussion focused on examining what has worked since the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 was enacted, what has not, and what lessons can be learned and applied to future efforts. David Gergen, political analyst for CNN moderated the intriguing panel, which hosted  Steven M. Eidelman, Harvard University; Howard Goldman, MD, PhD, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Herbert Pardes, MD, New York-Presbyterian Hospital; and Joe Shapiro, National Public Radio.

President Kennedy was far ahead of his time, being the first to discuss under-staffed, over-crowded mental health institutions in the 1960s. Steven Eidelman and Joe Shapiro discussed the societal barriers people with mental health conditions and developmental disabilities faced in the American civil rights era. The civil rights movement empowered people with mood disorders and mental health conditions to not let society define them by what they couldn’t do, but look at what they could do. “People with disabilities and their families were changing the way the world looked at them,” said Shapiro.

Contributing to the Overall Health of Society

A fantastic statement from Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance’s Lucinda Jewell reminded the panelists and audience members that those with mental health conditions are often viewed as a cost on society, instead of generating income and adding to the nation’s overall GDP in many ways. While pessimism may still exist around mental health conditions, we’re taking incremental steps to improve the mental health care system.

Howard Goldman stressed the importance of putting Community Mental Health Act of 1963 into context, as it was implemented less than two decades after World War II. Since then, small pieces of legislation have brought us to where we are today and will help us move forward in shaping mental health care. “We’ve been able to do our work on incremental changes,” said Goldman. “We need a vision of where we’re going to go and we need strategic incrementalists to help us get there.”


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