Remebering the New Frontier

John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier acceptance speech paved the way to the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. This law provided federal funding for community based programs to replace the centralized psychiatric care model, which we recognize as the constellation of state hospitals.

From The Republican
By Katherine B. Wilson
March 17, 2013

John F. Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act is worth remembering

JFK's New Frontier speech at 1960 DNC national convention
JFK delivering New Frontier speech at DNC national convention 1960. Image care of JFK Presidential Library.
Fifty years ago this year in a speech to Congress, President John F. Kennedy proposed “a national mental health program to assist in the inauguration of a wholly new emphasis and approach to care for the mentally ill.” Central to a new mental health program is comprehensive community care.

Later that year in 1963, Congress passed the Community Mental Health Act to provide federal funding for community mental health centers and research facilities devoted to research in and treatment of mental retardation. It was the last legislation President Kennedy signed into law before his assassination.

In Western Massachusetts, the Mental Health Consortium, a partnership of several health and mental organizations, was the recipient of federal funding under this legislation. It arrived in the Valley at the same time that Massachusetts began the closing of Northampton State Hospital.

This NIMH funding, along with funding from the Massachusetts’ budget, developed the foundation for the community mental health system in Western Massachusetts. For people in Springfield with mental illness, JFK’s final legislation ended the nightmare of being “warehoused” in secluded hospitals and forgotten institutions.

The law opened the door to a new era of recovery and the hope of moving back into their communities. Since then organizations like Behavioral Health Network have been helping people recover from mental illness and live full lives.

Further reading:

Leave a Reply