The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 (CMHA) (also known as the Community Mental Health Centres Construction Act, Mental Retardation Facilities and Construction Act, Public Law 88-164, or the Mental Retardation and Community Mental Health Centres Construction Act of 1963) was an act to provide federal funding for community mental health centres and research facilities in the United States.
This legislation was passed as part of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. It led to considerable deinstitutionalisation.
In 1955, Congress passed the Mental Health Study Act, leading to the establishment of the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Mental Health. That Commission issued a report in 1961, which would become the basis of the 1963 Act.
The CMHA provided grants to states for the establishment of local mental health centres, under the overview of the National Institute of Mental Health. The NIH also conducted a study involving adequacy in mental health issues. The purpose of the CMHA was to build mental health centres to provide for community-based care, as an alternative to institutionalisation. At the centres, patients could be treated while working and living at home.
Only half of the proposed centres were ever built; none were fully funded, and the act did not provide money to operate them long-term. Some states saw an opportunity to close expensive state hospitals without spending some of the money on community-based care. Deinstitutionalisation accelerated after the adoption of Medicaid in 1965. During the Reagan administration, the remaining funding for the act was converted into a mental-health block grant for states. Since the CMHA was enacted, 90% of beds have been cut at state hospitals.
The CMHA proved to be a mixed success. Many patients, formerly warehoused in institutions, were released into the community. However, not all communities had the facilities or expertise to deal with them. In many cases, patients wound up in adult homes or with their families, or homeless in large cities, but without the mental health care they needed.