Act Like it Matters… Because it Does

Act Like it Matters… Because it Does

Over the last century, the treatment for persons with mental illness and developmental disabilities, i.e., residential programs and day treatment options has changed dramatically. From a historical perspective, transitions in the family system, the ending of World War II, the impact of changes in the economy and the increase in life expectancy all play a role in the modification of the support system for persons with mental illness. The early days of large scale institutional care has been replaced with a community-based approach for program and resources.

 In 1946, the National Mental Health Act was signed establishing the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). In 1963, the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 was established. The latter part of the twentieth-century saw a revision in what constituted the best-practices of the day; large state mental hospitals and developmental centers were considered to be outdated and the locus of control for treatment shifted to a community-based model.  The Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 became the symbol for deinstitutionalization. No longer would persons with mentally illness or developmental disabilities suffer mere incarceration. The depiction of institutional care provided at Willowbrook State School in New York provided an additional catalyst for change . As the de-institutionalization movement gained favor with advocates, providers, state and legislative policy makers, the development of formalized, certified and government funded services were developed and organized into a community service model administered with oversight by a state entity.

 The question is, “collectively, what are we doing to promote successful and healthy aging in the community in the 21st Century?” and “what are we doing to promote successful aging in the community for persons with mental illness and persons with developmental disabilities?”  As a worldwide society, from the frontier of compassion, we have created sophisticated medical interventions to sustain and increase the length of life. However, we appear to be silent and without a clear unified voice regarding the quality of one’s life. Our presence and advocacy must be built upon: knowledge, justice, equity, fairness and human dignity; a true commitment will ultimately enrich the value of one’s own life. We need to harness our resources, reduce our duplication of effort across systems, learn from our history and act like it matters… because it does.