President Jimmy Carter made mental health care reform a top priority within his administration. After zealously advocating for the mental health community prior to taking office, he hit the ground running after his inauguration. As President Carter stated, “When I came to Washington… [I] recognized a new opportunity to assess the standard of care and prevention of mental illness from the perspective of the White House.”
On February 17, 1977, President Carter signed Executive Order 11973, establishing the President’s Commission on Mental Health. He had been in office for less than one month and already had begun a progressive approach to mental health care and funding. The Commission aimed to quantify the mentally ill population, identify how it was being underserved and determine a plan for funding to address these deficiencies. The order stated, “The Commission shall conduct public hearings, inquiries and studies as may be necessary to identify the mental health needs of the Nation.” Upon completion of this research, the Commission was tasked with drafting a report detailing the needs of the mental health community and recommendations for budgeting on federal, state and local levels.
The report submitted by the Commission served as an outline for the Mental Health Systems Act. This act, sponsored by Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, was first proposed to Congress on May 17, 1979, then signed into law by President Carter on October 7, 1980. The Mental Health Systems Act called for the development of “community mental health centers,” each regulated with certain programs, such as quality assurance and advisory boards. The services to be provided by each center were included in the act and ranged from inpatient treatment to services that worked with courts to advocate for placement in mental health treatment centers. The text included detailed outlines on budgets and funding for the proposed facilities.
At the signing ceremony, President Carter stated this act was the most important piece of mental health legislation on a federal level since President John F. Kennedy’s Mental Retardation and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963. He explained, “The Mental Health Systems Act I’m signing this afternoon is designed to provide vital services to the most underserved group in this nation… The States, which have long borne the major burden of care for chronic mental illness, will be able now to provide better services to all.” Carter signed this act in an effort to “reduce the suffering of millions of Americans who are robbed of satisfying lives by mental illness.”
Mental health care has come a long way since the Mental Health Systems Act and now typically includes addiction and dual diagnosis treatment. If you or a loved one is facing a nonviolent drug-related charge, Sovereign Court Services can be your advocate in court for placement in a treatment center in lieu of incarceration. Call 866-439-7698 to speak with an advocate today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer