The Public’s Right to Better Mental Health: How Community Psychiatry Came About

When dealing with the history of mental health diagnosis and treatment, it’s important to learn the role of community psychiatry within the realm of public health.

As the term implies, community psychiatry deals with making psychiatric services accessible to a certain geographic population. Simply put, community psychiatry stresses the need to involve the community in diagnosing, treating, and preventing the onset of mental illness as well as dealing with deviant behavior.

Such an intervention comprises home visitations, follow-ups, and the creation of a mental health program at the community level. To accomplish the objectives of this program, psychiatric professionals will need to work closely with community social workers.

The gist of community psychiatry

At any rate, the main aim of community psychiatry is to prevent the stigmatization of mental health patients and their families, which often results from hospital admission or confinement in rehabilitation centers. 

For this reason, community psychiatry plays a defining role in providing psychosocial interventions that are also necessary to local development. In addition to that, this approach underscores the need to strengthen public health systems and provide families better and more humane options to treat the mental health issues of loved ones. 

This, for sure, stemmed from a movement that sought to understand the relationship between community environments and mental health. 

Bridging the gap between psychiatric practice and social engagement

The need for community mental health interventions existed long before the development of modern psychiatric practice.  According to Ewalt and Ewalt (1969), the concept of community mental health could be traced back as far as 1878 when Dr. Nathan Allen presented a paper entitled The Prevention of Disease and Insanity which noted the role of social institutions and environments in preventing (or inducing) deviant behavior.

In 1922, Douglas Thom laid down a concept that would become the precursor of modern community psychiatry. Fo Thom, addressing mental health issues fosters should foster greater collaboration between doctors and other community stakeholders such as teachers and lawyers. 

The Two World Wars provided the impetus for the development of initiatives to make psychiatric services — once catering to the shell-shocked military personnel — available to the general public. The establishment of the National Institute of Mental Health following the Second World War, therefore, set the groundwork for innovation and raised interest toward community mental health programs. 

Finding a way forward

With the further evolution of psychiatric practice, the calls to fund research and implement community mental health programs, with nearly all 50 states committed to improving mental health services as a means to prevent social disorder.

In this sense, Ewalt and Ewalt (1969) sought a greater focus on community mental health programs and enhance collaboration among psychiatrists, mental health advocates, and community actors.  

Sure enough, the development of communications technology provides an avenue for bringing psychiatric services straight to the people that need them. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, telepsychiatry provides a convenient means for mental health professionals to reach out to patients and deliver personalized services.

MidCities Psychiatry is at the forefront of using such a tech-driven approach and exploring how it would fit into current mental health programs without diminishing the humanizing aspect of psychiatric practice. 

After all, community psychiatry throughout its history has highlighted the importance of outreach, a concept that MidCiites Psychiatry knows all too well. 

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EWALT, J. R., & EWALT, P. L. (1969). History of the Community Psychiatry Movement. American Journal of Psychiatry, 126(1), 43–52. doi:10.1176/ajp.126.1.43 

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