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3 Decades of Legislation and the Changing Views on Mental Health

3 Decades of Legislation and the Changing Views on Mental Health

public perception and the availability of treatment for mental health have greatly improved over the past thirty years

In the past 30 years, the public perception about mental health has drastically changed, and laws in the US have been changing as more scientific research has been revealed. Legislation continues to be passed that furthers research and makes it easier to get treatment, but it has historically been a struggle to get funding for research, raise awareness about the issues and to provide better access to treatment. In other words, the public view on mental health is still evolving, but it is changing faster than ever before. People are starting to realize how debilitating mental health problems can be, so they are paving the way for legislation that makes it easier when you need help.

Mental Health in the 20th Century

The public still ignores or underestimates the importance or mental health to an extent, but the way Americans view mental health has improved markedly since the early 1900’s. From the early 20th century until the 1960’s or later, people who suffered from mental health disorders were often housed in mental hospitals or insane asylums. At those times, people viewed mental health problems as deep-seated issues in personality or spirituality, so funding to improve treatment was at an extreme low. The number of patients in mental hospitals peaked in the 1950’s with over 500,000 people housed in government hospitals. In 1963, Congress passed the Community Mental Health Act to build a network of community treatment centers; they did so to make treatment more accessible and to move people from asylums to a better environments for treatment (this movement is also referred to as deinstitutionalization).

From the 1960’s until 1980, there was a gradual movement of mental health patients from hospitals to the community where they were on their own to seek whatever treatment was available. The Community Mental Health Act was supposed to improve conditions, but the result was a lot of people with mental health problems facing homelessness or jail. As time progressed, mental health started becoming more of a public issue, particularly because of the number of people with untreated conditions who had nowhere to go.

1980-Present: A Changing View

In 1980, a bill was passed to restructure the network of community treatment centers and to provide better care for patients with chronic disorders. However, the next year a bill passed that greatly defunded federal mental health programs and shifted treatment to the states. This process slowed down progress in mental health fields, so people with mental health issues found themselves without support. Fortunately, treatment and research were advancing at the same time, so treatment became more effective. Over time, it even became more accessible as private treatment options started increasing.

The government declared the 1990’s as the “Decade of the Brain,” because, throughout this period, legislation was passed that increased funding for mental health issues and treatment. This funding and research led to a better scientific understanding of mental health disorders, more effective treatment methods and new medications. The Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Reorganization Act of 1992 resulted in more research and the formation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is charged with improving the quality and availability of mental health treatment.

One of the last major pieces of mental health legislation to be signed was the Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA), which was signed in 1996. The MHPA requires all health insurance plans to use the same annual or lifetime limits on mental health issues as physical ones. This Act makes it much easier for people to receive treatment when they need it, and it encourages prevention and early treatment. In other words, if you have health insurance, then it is now easier than ever before not only to locate effective treatment, but also to get treatment covered by your insurance policy.

An amendment was passed in 2008 that makes it harder for insurance companies to deny coverage to patients with substance abuse disorders, although they are not legally obligated to pay for rehab. However, if you suffer from both a mental disorder and addiction, then you are a candidate for Dual Diagnosis treatment. As addiction and mental health problems feed off each other, Dual Diagnosis treatment attacks both issues at the same time. This type of care minimizes the amount of time you have to spend in treatment, and it is the only type of care that addresses the link between mental disorders and addiction.

No Better Time than Now for Treatment

There are more resources than ever for people who suffer from a mental illness, so stop putting your problem off and get the help you need. Our toll-free helpline is available 24 hours a day, and our admissions coordinators can answer your questions about mental health as they direct you to treatment centers that will meet your needs. Our staff can tell you if your health insurance will cover the cost of your stay in treatment, so have your policy information on-hand.