Local mental health center celebrates 50-year vision

President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Act Oct. 31, 1963 to federally fund community mental health centers and research facilities devoted to the treatment of mental illness.

“The 50th anniversary of the Community Mental Health Act gives us occasion to celebrate a vision for behavioral health that has been 50 years in the making — and to bring it to scale,” said Rosalin Chrest, executive director, Family Life Mental Health Center, Coon Rapids.

“JFK encouraged a bold new approach to mental health, one in which the ‘cold mercy’ of custodial care would be replaced by the ‘open warmth’ of community. He established a vision we still strive to fully realize — for a community focused on prevention, treatment, education and recovery.”

In the past 50 years, new medications, psychotherapies, peer support and other treatment technologies have dramatically expanded the ability to treat a range of conditions, according to Chrest.

And today, more people with mental illnesses get treated than at any other time in history — mostly in community settings, Chrest said.

Yet, while science and public policy have taken giant leaps since 1963, as JFK warned, “The problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won,” she said.

“We haven’t realized the full potential of community-based care,” Chrest said. “Financing arrangements, clinical training and systems of accountability are often misaligned, and mental illnesses continue to be the largest source of morbidity, just as they were in 1963.”

In fact, between 1990 and 2010, the worldwide incidence of mental illness went up by 38 percent, according to a 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study.

According to Chrest, the 1963 legislation gave mental health and addictions treatment parity with all other healthcare treatments. The Affordable Care Act is expanding mental health and addiction benefits to 62 million Americans and this will accelerate an already growing demand for behavioral health services and for care on request, Chrest said.

“Behavioral health is becoming part of the new frontier of mainstream medicine, which is driven by science,” she said.

“Now, it’s time to advance into the new frontier. We must embrace scientific advances and advocate for public policies that emphasize prevention and early identification. “

According to Chrest, three bills in front of Congress would move mental health and addictions care into the new frontier.

• The Mental Health First Aid Act offers education and training to teachers, health workers, firefighters, police officers, emergency services personnel and other community members.

• The Excellence in Mental Health Act creates certified community behavioral health centers to better meet the needs of people currently being served, and those who will seek care as a result of coverage expansion and parity.

• The Behavioral Health IT Act provides financial incentives for the adoption and “meaningful use” of health information technology — the bedrock of improved care and coordination among practitioners — for mental health and addiction treatment providers and facilities.

“Family Life Mental Health Center looks forward to working with its legislators to achieve the full promise of the Community Mental Health Act,” Chrest said.

Family Life Mental Health Center provides outpatient mental health services. Since 1978, it has been providing community mental health care to empower clients toward effective prevention and management of behavioral and mental illnesses through education and comprehensive treatment.

For more information about Family Life Mental Health Center services, call 763-427-7964 or visit www.flmhc.org

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