Lost on the Way to the Moon

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Earlier this week I sat in on a Web broadcast announcing the launch of the Kennedy Center for Mental Health Policy and Research. The lead presenters were former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Dr. David Satcher, former Surgeon General of the United States. Both men are longtime advocates of mental health reform. The broadcast was interesting, inspiring and spot-on regarding many issues.

But I wanted something more.

The presentation was billed as a State of the Union for Mental Health. During the Webinar, these knowledgeable men were interviewed about the state of mental health care in the U.S, and made some insightful points about the importance of integrated care and treating the whole person. On one occasion, cognitive behavioral therapy got a good call-out by Kennedy. 

I still wanted something more.

I’m always appreciative when mental health and substance use disorder needs are brought to light, especially by people with the public profile of these two. So, what was the problem? I was able to identify the source of my angst when Satcher and Kennedy referenced a speech from Patrick’s uncle, President John F. Kennedy in which the commander in chief challenged the nation to “seek out the causes of mental illness and eradicate them.”

That was February 5, 1963. Fifty-two years ago today.  It struck me like a sad epiphany that around the same time, JFK vowed that the nation would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Let’s think about this. Six years and nine months after President Kennedy issued his challenge, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Armstrong did, in fact, set foot on the moon. But 52 years after JFK challenged us to address mental illness, we’re still largely looking at the map. It doesn’t have to be that way.

We know which way to go.

We know that care needs to be integrated and that there is a positive ROI – both clinically and financially — to providing behavioral health treatment.

We know that it’s more expensive to ignore the problems than to fix them on the back end, or worse, to imprison the mentally ill.

We know that many treatments are effective.

And the list goes on. So, what’s the holdup on meaningful change?

We don’t need yet another institute or commission or blue ribbon panel to tell us what we already know. We’ve talked, strategized and pontificated far too long. I’m hopeful these political heavyweights will be part of the change to do what others haven’t — answer the challenge and reach the goal.

Until then we’ll all be left wanting something more.

[Listen as Dr. Morrison juxtaposes two important speeches from President John F. Kennedy and examines where treatment for mental illness and addiction must go in the United States]