Mental health issues have received increased national attention in recent years, ushering in a number of firsts toward improving the quality of life for the one in five Americans who have mental illness. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1999 decision Olmstead v. L.C. was an affirmation of the full integration into the community of people who have mental illness, something that advocates had long fought for. The same year, the Surgeon General released its first report on mental health, and the White House held its first conference on mental health, calling for a national antistigma campaign.
The creation in 2002 of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health -- made up of nearly two dozen leading public health managers, professionals and advocates -- has been another important benchmark in a new era of mental health. Not since President Jimmy Carter's administration has such a body been appointed by the executive office to comprehensively study the state of mental health affairs in this country. But despite the historic effort, mental health still straggles in the rear of our national consciousness and remains an immense public policy challenge for the country.
As the New Freedom Commission heard in public testimony around the
country, the mental health system is fragmented with serious systematic
barriers to care, from inadequate funding for services and support
to gaps in the availability of care and an absence of culturally competent
services. In the community, the problems of stigma, unemployment,
inadequate housing and the criminalization of people who have mental
illness still prevail. In late spring 2003, the New Freedom Commission
will report its findings to the White House. It is hoped that the
commission's recommendations will provide a catalyst for long overdue
policy changes and a firmer commitment to mental health. But in these
times of economic uncertainty -- and with the country so focused on war,
terrorism, and homeland security -- support
for mental health, along with other social programs, is at risk.
Now, more than ever, our commitment to the nation's mental health is tested. Read an interview with Dr. Dan Fisher, the only survivor of mental illness appointed to the New Freedom Commission, and learn about his efforts to bring recovery and hope to the center of the mental health debate.