How Presidents Have Shaped Mental Health Care

FEB. 15, 2016

By Jessica W. Hart

White HouseThis President’s Day, NAMI celebrates the many Presidents who have helped to improve the lives of people with mental illness. There is still more work to do, but we’re going to get there together.

Here are a sampling of a dozen actions by U.S. Presidents over the past few decades to support mental health care in our country.


President John F. Kennedy signs the Community Mental Health Act, which launched the country’s system of community mental health centers.


President Jimmy Carter signs the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, which dedicates $800 million over four years in grants to expand community mental health services.


President George H.W. Bush proclaims the ‘90s as the “Decade of the Brain” to focus attention on the benefits of brain research and signs the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark bill prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities—including people living with mental illness.


President Bill Clinton signs the first limited mental health parity law: the Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) to begin addressing disparities in the coverage of mental illness.


President Bill Clinton hosts the first White House Conference on Mental Health, signaling to the nation that reducing the stigma around mental illness is important.


President George W. Bush appoints the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, a committee of mental health experts who issued a report with 19 recommendations for improving services for children, youth and adults living with mental illness.


President George W. Bush signs the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA), which provides resources to communities for alternatives to incarceration for youth and adults with mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders.


President George W. Bush signs the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008, a comprehensive federal law establishing that coverage in health insurance for mental health and substance abuse treatment must be equivalent to that for other medical conditions.


President Barack Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which extended federal mental health parity to Medicaid managed care plans and to qualified health plans offered through insurance place marketplaces, or exchanges. 


President Obama signs the Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act of 2010, which increases federal supportive housing resources for individuals with mental illness and other disabilities.


The White House hosts A National Conference on Mental Health and launches the National Dialogue on Mental Health.


The President’s proposed budget includes a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care.

These actions by our Presidents are important, but what will our country’s next president do to advance mental health? Celebrate Presidents’ Day by asking presidential candidates questions about mental health. And join us every day in advocating for better mental health care. Sign-up to receive our Advocacy Alerts


APR, 21, 2018 11:28:57 PM
Doing a history paper on Mental Health policy. I see that there were attempts to make changes, but we all know there have been cuts and other priorities that continues to create barriers to evaluations and effective treatment. What are the historical barriers that you see despite the legislation trying to "make improvements." Interested on your thoughts to why not everyone follows the President New Freedom Commission on Mental Health federal policy.

MAR, 27, 2018 05:46:08 PM
Elijah Birtel
WHAT BRENT SAID! I want to see if there was an overall reduction in the money spent on mental health over the last few decades.

MAR, 06, 2018 08:24:55 AM
I think it is really interesting that you did not list the landmark repeal of most of the Mental Health Act by President Ronald Reagan. Can you explain why only positive changes are listed.

JUL, 25, 2016 07:12:40 AM
Done Lee
US president is one of the world top and powerfull man at this time.Recently Barack Obama women’s addiction news published at everywhere.but some news are different type as like it's.

MAR, 09, 2016 11:24:50 AM
Thanks for post. I am working on my course work on this topic.It is great to find out that many presidents helped to improve the lives of people with mental illness. Will definitely use this information in my work.
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