Presidential mental health policies through the ages part 1: Harry S. Truman

Throughout history, certain presidents have made a concerted effort to change mental health policy and increase availability to proper treatment for citizens nationwide. President Harry S. Truman listened to the demands of veterans and their families following World War II and signed the National Mental Health Act into law on July 3, 1946. This act called for the development of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) with a goal of working toward “the improvement of the mental health of the people of the United States.” In President Truman’s own words, “All progress begins with differences of opinion and moves onward as the differences are adjusted through reason and mutual understanding.”

The National Mental Health Act satisfied many clinicians who had long fought for more accessible mental health care and rights for the mentally ill. Prior to its passing, clinicians believe the federal government had shown little interest in the mental health of United States citizens. Calling “for research relating to psychiatric disorders and to aid in the development of more effective methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of such disorders,” the National Mental Health Act jumpstarted the mental health movement. NIMH was formally established in 1949, funded by Congress, and continues to be a driving force in mental health advocacy, research and treatment today.

This act was initially proposed to Congress in March of 1945 as the National Neuropsychiatric Institute Act. This word choice was highly debated, as clinicians nationwide fought for inclusion of the term “mental health” in the title. Some officials wanted to use the term “mental illness,” but clinicians aimed to normalize the concept of mental health and reduce the stigma attached to it. During these debates, Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric division chief, S. Bernard Wortis, contributed, “Health, sir, is a purchasable commodity, and it seems to me that if more money were put into services… much mental illness could be saved in this country.”

Though President Truman’s signing of the National Mental Health Act into law brought forth a new era of mental health care and treatment, there are still barriers keeping many people from getting the care they need. If you or a loved one is facing a non-violent drug-related offense, help is available. Sovereign Court Services advocates for your right to drug addiction or dual diagnosis treatment in lieu of incarceration. Call 866-439-7698 to speak with an advocate today.


Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

August 19, 2015

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