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The National Mental Health Act

Mental health is about emotional, social and psychological well-being. The World Health Organization establishes the important role mental health plays in an individual achieving their personal goals and the country’s development, evidenced by its inclusion in the sustainable development goals (WHO, 2022). Further mental health conditions are increasing within the United States and across the world, as evidenced by more people with depression and suicide becoming the second leading cause of death among young adults. Many mental health conditions can be treated at a relatively low cost, but the number of people who access the appropriate care is relatively low (WHO, 2022). In the United States, the CDC (2021) established that 1 in 25 Americans live with a severe mental condition such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. This creates the need for further understanding of the issue so that appropriate interventions can be implemented to reduce the growing incidences. The National Mental Health Act of 1946 was developed for relatively the same reason to facilitate the mental conditions of soldiers after World War II. The law is still relevant today as it authorized “the Surgeon General to improve the mental health of U.S. citizens through research into the causes, diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2021). This law is essential as it established the importance of research and development to improve people’s lives with mental conditions and help the country overcome them through knowledge development.

The Problem

Unlike common health conditions like flu or cold mental conditions are usually misdiagnosed or miscategorized. The United States is still fighting the criminalization of health conditions, evidenced by law enforcement responding to a mental health crisis instead of a medical professional. In such cases, the outcome is usually catastrophic because law enforcers are often ill-equipped to deal with people behaving erratically, which is the common definition of people in a mental health crisis (Reinert et al., 2021). This makes people need to be aware of when to call the police or when dispatch should notify the police, paramedics or the special response team in cases involving mental health.

The issue with mental health is that it often lacks the physical characteristics and instead, in most cases, manifest as a crisis. A mental health crisis is identified as a situation where an individual’s behaviors or actions jeopardize their safety and those surrounding them (Reinert et al., 2021). Further, mental health has been identified as a public health issue as it affects the individual’s health and the community’s normal functioning. It affects productivity and negatively interacts with homelessness to worsen the situation. This is because the majority of people diagnosed with mental health do not receive the appropriate treatment for different reasons, including stigmatization of mental health conditions. Also, due to health disparities, there is unequal access to mental health services, pervasive behavior toward seeking treatment and inadequate information among the public on how to deal with mental health.

Mental health is not specific to a particular population or age group, and the fact that it affects all populations is witnessed by the growing incidences of depression among adolescents leading to suicide and suicide ideation. This creates the need for data on mental health, its comorbidities, risk behaviors, prevention strategies, if any and appropriate treatment options for all populations. Consequently, there is a need for increased awareness about mental disorders necessary to eliminate the stigma associated with receiving treatment and improve access to mental health services, especially in populations whose health accessibility is compromised. Further, they are a need for surveillance and research to improve evidence-based practices that will ensure the successful treatment of various mental health conditions.

Purpose of the Study

This study intends to investigate the impact of the National Mental Health Act of 1946 in addressing mental health challenges in the United States. The National Mental Health Act has since been revised to incorporate other aspects of mental health, but it remains significant as it was the first to authorize, including setting aside funds for research and knowledge development into mental health. Thus, this study aims at understanding how there is still a stigma when research into mental health, including the development of the National Institute of Mental Health whose mission is to “transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure” (NIMH, 2021).

Research Question: What effect did the National Mental Health Act of 1946 have on research for knowledge development on mental health?

Policy Background

President Truman signed the National Mental Health Act of 1946 into law after acknowledging the plight of World War II soldiers with various mental illnesses associated with the war. When introduced to congress, it was first referred to as the “National Neuropsychiatric Institute Act”, which later adopted mental health as the numbers of people with mental health conditions were higher than anticipated. The insistence that such a law be passed came from the cries of the veterans and their families because they had to deal with their family member ‘erratic behavior’ as manifested in the signs of PTSD. Further, there was an increased dismal of officers on mental health grounds. The medical field, especially clinicians, advocated this law because of the associated benefits in the profession. Such a bill would pave the way for professional research and training, especially in preventive services and therapeutic interventions, to help the military personnel and their families at a time postwar foreign and military policy had significant influence in the country, especially in attracting federal funding.

Further, this particular legislation’s goal was to improve the mental health of the people of the United States as the country was in the phase of reconstruction and readjustments after the war. It was argued that the war was only won when the country could function normally, including their mental health. This created the need for further understanding of mental health across populations. Consequently, it created the groundwork for developing the National Institute of Mental Health that replaced the Public Health Service Division of Mental Hygiene and associated funding. Coombs et al. (2021) establish that it adopted a preventive, community-sensitive orientation; the institution recommended ways of interdisciplinary social research in attaining the goal of national mental health.

Economic and Social Factors addressed in the legislation.

Poor mental health has various health implications, including unemployment, low income and poverty. Kim & Cho (2020) highlight that according to a report by the WHO, the direct cost associated with the treatment and diagnosis of mental health conditions is approximately 0.8 trillion dollars, while indirect cost from lower productivity or income losses was approximated at 1.7 trillion dollars. Through research and awareness as established through the National Mental Health Act of 1946, more people will have more knowledge on mental health, improving their accessibility and probably reducing the direct cost of treatment. This is because, as established, early diagnosis and treatment reduce the increased cost of treatment. However, this is challenging because of the stigma and the imagined cost of treatment leading to delayed treatment until the disease progresses. For example, depression has been classified as a mental disorder characterized by suicide ideation in some people; thus, identifying it early and prompting interventions can reduce the risk of successful suicides. Therefore, this legislation is instrumental in reducing the direct cost of treatment by encouraging early diagnosis and treatment by facts as researched.

Social exclusion is common, especially for individuals who cannot communicate effectively in a particular setting. This is because people with mental disorders have challenges displaying their emotions, and often they may appear violent, compromising their social interactions. Kim & Cho (2020) argues that an individual’s social and economic status can be a cause and consequence of mental health issues. An individual suffering from a particular mental condition suffers the risk of losing friends and families due to the associated complications. This is because people often have negative perceptions when it comes to mental conditions and may not understand what the individual is going through, thus distancing themselves. Therefore, with this legislation, more people will understand how mental illness works and instead of stigmatizing it, they can become the required social support.

Conclusively, the National Mental Health Act of 1946 was created to respond to the growing mental health crisis after World War II. Importantly it established the National Institute of Mental Health, tasked with research on mental health issues. This is significant legislation, especially in researching mental health issues, to improve awareness and advise the federal and state governments on the appropriate interventions to address mental health issues. This study intends to investigate the impact of the National Mental Health Act of 1946 in addressing mental health challenges in the United States by effectively answering the research question.


CDC (2021). About Mental Health.

Coombs, N. C., Meriwether, W. E., Caringi, J., & Newcomer, S. R. (2021). Barriers to healthcare access among U.S. adults with mental health challenges: A population-based study. SSM-population health, p. 15, 100847.

Kim, Y. M., & Cho, S. I. (2020). Socioeconomic status, work‐life conflict, and mental health. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 63(8), 703-712.

National Institute of Mental Health (2021). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).,Health%2C%20that%20was%20researched%20and

Reinert, M., Fritze, D., & Nguyen, T. (2021). The state of mental health in America 2022.

World Health Organization (2022). Mental Health.


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