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The Well-Being of our Nation: An Inter-Generational Vision of Effective Mental Health Services and Supports

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An Inter-Generational Vision of Effective Mental Health Services and Supports (PDF, 454K)


September 16, 2002


At a time when more is known about mental illnesses than at any other time in history and just three years after the U.S. Supreme Court held that unnecessary institutionalization violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, public mental health systems find themselves in crisis, unable to provide even the most basic mental health services and supports to help people with psychiatric disabilities become full members of the communities in which they live.

This report does not aim to be a comprehensive review of all that is known about public mental health and its shortcomings. That undertaking has been begun by the U.S. Surgeon General, in the massive 1999 report entitled Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, and will be carried on with President Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, which held its first public hearings in July 2002. Rather, this report examines some of the root causes of the crisis in mental health, and seeks to "connect the dots" concerning the dysfunction of a number of public systems that are charged with providing mental health services and supports for children, youth, adults and seniors who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses.

One of the most significant findings of this report is that children and youth who experience dysfunction at the hands of mental health and educational systems are much more likely to become dependent on failing systems that are supposed to serve adults. In parallel fashion, adults whose mental health service and support needs are not fulfilled are very likely to become seniors who are dependent on failing public systems of care. In this fashion, hundreds of thousands of children, youth, adults and seniors experience poor services and poor life outcomes, literally from cradle to grave.

There is no single antidote for the current dysfunction of the public mental health system. Clearly, visionary leadership, adequate funding and expansion of proven models (including consumer-directed programs) are essential ingredients. More than these, however, there needs to be a dramatic shift in aspirations for people with psychiatric disabilities.

Public mental health systems must be driven by a value system that sees recovery as achievable and desirable for every person who has experienced mental illness. Systems also must commit to serving the whole person, and not merely the most obvious symptoms. In other words, mental health systems will have to develop the expertise to deliver not just medication and counseling, but housing, transportation and employment supports as well.

There are proven models of success throughout the country, but entrenched forces and stale thinking have prevented them from "going to scale" to serve more people with psychiatric disabilities. Some such models are referenced throughout the report, and Chapter 6 provides a menu of concrete actions to bring about a new vision of public mental health services and supports.

Executive Summary

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: How Did We Get Here?

Chapter 3: Impact on Children and Youth

Chapter 4: Impact on Adults

Chapter 5: Impact on Seniors

Chapter 6: Fulfilling the Promise: Concrete Steps Toward a New Vision

Chapter 7: An Inter-Generational Vision for Effective Mental Health Services and Supports