Wednesday, October 23, 2013

50th Anniversary of the Community Mental Health Act

On October 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Act. These actions drastically altered the delivery of mental health services and inspired a new era of optimism in mental healthcare.

For millions of Americans living with a mental illness, this law opened the door to hope and recovery—to a life in the community. This legislation set the stage for an entirely new approach to recovery in the community, one marked by continually evolving care and treatment for Americans with mental illness.

Still, there is often a social stigma associated with mental illness which prevents people from seeking help. Many people are too ashamed or embarrassed to seek the help they need for themselves or their loved ones.

According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 1 in 17 Americans lives with a serious mental illness. One in five children and adolescents in the United States struggles with a mental illness and up to one-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begins by the age of 14, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management.
Mental illness usually strikes individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood, and can cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school, and with their peers. Without treatment, the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and chronic health issues. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States (NAMI, 2013).
With a wide range of services tailored to their needs—that may or may not include medication—most people can significantly reduce the negative impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence.
In the wake of the new Mental Health Act in the 1960s, Arizona’s Children Association, along with the Arizona State Department of Health, also began to focus on the mental health needs of our children. Funds from the Federal Mental Health Act made it possible for our agency to hire our first psychiatric social worker assigned to work with the children residing at the original home on 8th Avenue in Tucson.
Today, Arizona’s Children Association’s (AzCA) Outpatient Behavioral Health Services continue to serve children, adolescents and young adults transitioning to adult services, and their families. Clients come from a wide variety of referral sources including Regional Behavioral Health Authorities (RBHA), Behavioral Health Networks, the Department of Economic Security, the Juvenile Court, local businesses, hospitals, physicians, schools, self-referrals, and private clients.
AzCA behavioral health service facilities are licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Services are designed to be a short term intervention that can assist in developing the skills and supports needed to increase independence and resiliency. The Outpatient department works with the family unit if at all possible. When this is not possible, every effort is made to intervene therapeutically in the environment in which the child or adolescent resides.
Types of services provided include counseling (family, group & individual), psychosocial rehabilitation, coordinating/case management, training, outreach, volunteer services, psychiatric services, Child & Family Teams (CFT) facilitation, school-based services, respite, and more. Child & Family Teams are a central focus of services, where the issues and needs of families are addressed not only clinically, but from a cultural, strengths based, community, natural resource, extended family, and spiritual approach. Teams are structured and function in a flexible manner to include varying levels of involvement from AzCA staff, other child serving agencies and natural supports. The structure of the team varies depending on the child and family’s strengths, the complexity of needs, and goals identified by the child, the family, and the team.
“As an agency, we are committed to reducing the stigma of mental illness by providing access to services quickly, in an environment that the family prefers, and by bringing the family, the professionals and community members they chose together at the CFT," said Jessie Gillam, director of operations for behavioral health. "The use of the CFT puts the child and their family in the driver's seat, as they are the experts, and allows the team to come together and work on a common goal.”
With a stronger community behavioral health safety net, people in need of services today have greater access to care and an entirely new approach to recovery in the community. We are proud to carry on a 50 year tradition of respectfully providing the care and compassion needed for those in our communities with mental illness.
As the stigma surrounding this issue decreases and the community is educated on the need to identify these issues in young people, we will empower vulnerable children and their families to improve their safety, health and well-being and increase their potential to lead productive and healthy lives.
For more information about AzCA’s behavioral health services, visit us online at

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