WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), lead sponsors of the bipartisan “Excellence in Mental Health Act,” today issued the following statement marking the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy signing the “Community Mental Health Act,” the last bill he signed before his assassination:

“The Community Mental Health Act, and President Kennedy’s vision that those living with mental illness should have access to humane and effective treatment in their communities, changed our country’s mental health services forever. While we have come a long way, there is still much work to be done to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and ensure that people living with mental illness have access to quality treatment. Our bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health Act continues President Kennedy’s vision and expands access to treatment while strengthening mental health services. On today’s 50th Anniversary of the Community Mental Health Act, we again call on Congress to act to strengthen America’s mental health services.”

In February 2013, Blunt and Stabenow introduced the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which addresses the nation’s fragmented mental health system by offering current Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) a chance to obtain the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic designation.

President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act on October 31, 1963. The bill established community mental health centers as an alternative to the institutionalization of people living with mental illness. The legislation revolutionized the nation’s mental health care services. However, community mental health has faced deep cuts and many people living with mental illness still do not have access to the care they need.

One-third of those with mood disorders do not receive treatment of any kind in a given year, and fewer than half of those with severe mental disorders receive any treatment. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. With at least 25 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing some type of mental health condition, Community Mental Health Centers are expected to soon be serving hundreds of thousands of additional veterans.

In addition to Blunt and Stabenow, the Excellence in Mental Health Act is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators including U.S. Senators Mark Begich (Alaska), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Susan Collins (Maine), Chris Coons (Del.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

Senator Blunt has also co-sponsored a number of mental health bills in the Senate, including:

• The “Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013,” which was introduced by U.S. Senators Mark Begich (Alaska) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H). The bill authorizes the launch of a demonstration program to support mental health first aid trainings nationwide to help more Americans identify, understand, and respond to the signs of mental illnesses and addiction disorders.

• The “Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act,” which was introduced by U.S. Senators Al Franken (Minn.) and Mike Johanns (Neb.). The bipartisan bill would help make communities safer by improving access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system who need treatment. The bill also focuses on giving law enforcement officers the tools they need to identify and respond to mental health issues, and includes a 5-year reauthorization of the “Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act” (MIOTCRA), continuing support for mental health courts, and crisis intervention teams.

• And the “Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013,” which was introduced by U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and reauthorizes and improves programs related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions.

# # #