Mental Health in the USA: A Short History

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Volunteer Writer: Emma Bowser


Mental health awareness has been growing, and for good reason. It’s estimated that 10% of the world population has mental illness, which comes out to about eight million people. 

Around one in five Americans has a mental illness, with about 41% of the population going undiagnosed. Six in ten diagnosed Americans don’t have access to treatment (medication, therapy, etc.), but serious mental illness still costs the country $190 billion annually due to lost earnings.

Different demographics within the country are affected by mental illness differently. Women are twice as likely to experience depression as men, 64% of college students drop out due to mental health issues, and 20%-30% of LGBTQIA+ individuals abuse substances like alcohol or marijuana.

Mental illness is a pressing concern in our era, affecting everything from our health insurance to our average life expectancy.

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Mental health awareness has come a long way due to the tireless efforts of people working with organizations like the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, Inc. (MAMHI).

Clifford Whittingham Beers established MAMHI because his “first-hand experience of the poor state of psychiatric hospitals motivated him to improve practices for people with mental health conditions and educate the public on prevention and treatment.”

The founding members of MAMHI were personally evaluated and chosen by Beers, and the organization has been “committed to prevention and addressing the social determinants of health” from the beginning.” 

MAMHI has been an essential leader in mental health advocacy and has pushed the need for positive societal changes for the past 110 years. They are a huge reason Massachusetts is recognized for its accessible behavioral health treatment options.

The 1990s became the “Decade of the Brain” in the US, a time that Congress dedicated to recognizing all the research and public education surrounding the central nervous system, especially the brain.

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 Congress established the first public awareness campaign for mental health due to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) advocacy efforts. It was titled The Campaign to End Discrimination and began in 1996 due to the growing public awareness of neurology and psychiatry.

This campaign was the beginning of what is now Mental Illness Awareness Week. Every year, the first week of October is dedicated to increasing public awareness of mental health issues and eliminating harmful stereotypes and biases contributing to discrimination.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is one of the organizations that was created following the initial efforts of MAMHI and NAMI. It was built in 1992 by Congress to “make substance use and mental disorder information, services, and research more accessible.” 

Mental Health Awareness Month (May) has been recognized by SAMHSA for the past 20 years, even though it was officially established in 1949 to increase public awareness of mental health and celebrate the recovery and journeys of those with mental health conditions. 

SAMHSA is the primary advocate for National Prevention Week, which is the second week of May and is about “the work of communities and organizations across the country dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of substance misuse prevention and positive mental health.” 

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Thanks to these organizations, the general public is more educated about mental health. Mental health is recognized as a field that needs to be prioritized.

Researchers worldwide are currently exploring sciences like neurology, psychiatry, and behavioral medicine to make a difference in society by helping to bring down the number of patients and deaths caused by mental illness. 

Check out our article on UMass Dartmouth’s latest effort to recognize and celebrate mental health awareness on campus.

If you are ever feeling down and you need someone to talk to, don’t be afraid to call 988, the suicide hotline, to talk to someone. You can learn more about this at

You are loved.

If you are looking for on-campus support, the Counseling Center can be reached at 508-999-8648 or by visiting their website here.

The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life provides confidential pastoral counseling and can be reached at 508-999-8872.

Additional Mental Health Resources


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