Exactly 50 years ago this month, on October 24, 1963, President John F. Kennedy charted a new national course for the treatment of mental health, substance use, and intellectual/developmental disability conditions. His Community Mental Health Act has reverberated across the decades and has influenced virtually every related policy decision since that time.
Long before many of us currently in this field, President Kennedy had the clear vision of a full life in the community for those with mental health, substance use or intellectual/developmental disability conditions. His vision presages much later work on consumer empowerment, recovery and wellness, and very recent efforts toward full community participation. Yet, unfortunately, his vision remains unfulfilled today.
Now, with the passage of President Barack Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act, it is imperative that we chart a new course for these fields in the 21st Century that will achieve President Kennedy’s original vision. Recovery has come of age, prevention has become possible, and our services have evolved dramatically.
Former Representative Patrick Kennedy, nephew of the late President, has stepped forward to address this critical challenge. On October 23rd, Representative Kennedy launched the Kennedy Forum at a gala formal dinner held in the famed JFK Presidential Library in South Boston on beautiful Cape Cod Bay. At this inaugural event, Representative Kennedy called this effort, “the race to inner space.” He also set forth the Forum’s mission, “The Kennedy Forum will create a national conversation that will allow us to unite the community of mental health, remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, and, once and for all, achieve parity by treating the brain the same way we treat the rest of the body.”
Clearly, success of the Kennedy Forum will involve major efforts to stimulate very bold research initiatives to improve our understanding of brain structure and function, a very bold development agenda to define and implement disease prevention, health promotion, and new treatment services, and very bold outreach to the community to promote full recovery and wellness.
Joining Representative Kennedy for this inaugural event were his brother, Edward J. “Ted” Kennedy Jr., Vice President Joseph Biden, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Chelsea Clinton, and football hero Brandon Marshall, together with 500 representatives from the national mental health, substance use, and intellectual/developmental disability communities. All had gathered at the dinner to celebrate President Kennedy’s accomplishments and the importance of his vision for us today. Chris Matthews, national commentator, served as master of ceremonies for the event. Dr Aaron Beck received the First Kennedy Forum Award for his groundbreaking work in assessment of depression.
In their comments, Vice President Biden and HHS Secretary Sebelius emphasized the importance of high quality mental health, substance use, and intellectual/developmental disability services. Both access to and use of these services will be improved through the Affordable Care Act, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, and new initiatives proposed by President Obama.