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The Alignment for Progress is an action-oriented movement combining vision, commitment, and investment with the goal of redirecting the future of care

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Open a newspaper, watch television or spend any time on social media: a topic on many people’s minds is concern about mental health and substance use. That’s why it’s time for a meaningful national conversation about these issues. And more than simply talk: it’s time to remove the barriers to equitable and available coverage for these conditions so people can get the help they need. Because we know the barriers are a lack of aligned action, not a lack of will, and certainly not a lack of need. 

In fact, we find ourselves in a critical moment of need—and of opportunity. In the aftermath of a global pandemic and amid ongoing economic uncertainty, the United States is experiencing an unprecedented mental health and substance use crisis. Drug addiction and deaths by overdose are increasing year over year. Suicide attempts and ideation are at emergency levels among teens and younger adults. Older Americans report greater feelings of loneliness than at any other time in history. The numbers of citizens experiencing houselessness has risen since the years before Covid—both a cause and an effect of mental health distress. The evidence is clear: The current system of mental health and substance use care is not working. And it’s costing the country more in lost productivity, downstream medical costs and shortened lives than better care will cost.

Better coverage for mental health and substance doesn’t have to impact the bottom line—of the nation, of employers, of insurance companies, or of those seeking care. Payment models exist that ensure costs are kept within reasonable limits, are shared among parties and across the system and return more to the economy in the form of increased productivity than they take away. And measuring outcomes is an integral part of ensuring that spending is on care that works and improves peoples’ lives 

As it stands, says Kennedy, “We’re all siloed: by diagnoses, by trade association, by our own interests. But whether it's reducing eating disorders, overdoses, suicides and suicide ideation, addiction, anxiety, incarceration, major depressive disorders—it all takes the same set of investments.”

The will to change our system of care exists. That’s why we’re calling, urgently, for an Alignment for Progress—an action-oriented coming together of vision, commitment, and investment with the goal of redirecting the future of care. Our work will be aimed at clearing paths to parity; furthering the advancement of evidence-based practices, politics, and programming; and overseeing a measurable movement towards population-level progress and change. 

”What we need is a return of the sort of big picture thinking JFK relied on when he signed the Community Mental Health Act, not to mention when he dreamed of putting a man on the moon. And we need to work together. Instead of being siloed by thinking that our own particular issue has a certain set of needs,” says Kennedy, “we need to recognize that we’re all going to be advanced by working towards the same set of principles.” 


Vision, Policy, Process

Sixty years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Act, a bold mental health reform plan with a focus on replacing the standard institutional care with a robust, federally funded community health center system. The three-part initiative would be at once more effective and far more humane—a revolutionary, and ambitious, big picture approach to solving a major humanitarian problem. JFK was assassinated three weeks later, and although the Community Mental Health Act provided a framework for how we approach mental health care today, many of its ambitions were never fully realized. 

Building on the Past, Looking to the Future

Here at the Kennedy Forum, we have spent the last 10 years working to build upon JFK’s vision for mental health and substance use treatment. Over these years, we have made some significant inroads, among them a continued determination to fulfill the promise of the Parity Law, our founder Patrick Kennedy’s landmark legislation that, for the first time, required equitable insurance coverage for all patients, on commercial insurance plans, seeking treatment and support for mental health and substance use disorders and which was signed into law in 2008 by President George W. Bush. 

Paramount to tackling the crisis we find ourselves in today is agreeing, as a community, that mental health is a biopsychosocial condition—equal parts dependent on biological, psychological, and social factors. The approach to reform, then, must be envisioned like a three-legged stool. Each leg must work effectively both on its own and in collaboration with the others in order for the stool as a whole to function. That’s why our vision includes necessary partnership and investment from all federal agencies whose oversight includes any one of those biopsychosocial legs, and perhaps most critically from those agencies working with the social determinants of health, a category often overlooked in the consideration and treatment of mental health and addiction disorders. We aim to reframe mental health as a public health issue, one that requires a systems—and government—wide approach. 


Articulating Policy to Guide Progress

Aligning for progress will entail the large-scale coordination of a strategic vision uniting stakeholders across aisle and industry—including mental health advocates, substance use and recovery clinicians and advocates, business leaders, insurers, politicians, and government agencies. The vision will aim to fill a solutions void at both the grassroots and systems level and grow a movement to reshape broken systems. The work will include bridging medical, psychiatric, therapeutic, and social components to build a unified model of care. It will mean collaborating to define our individual and collective action-oriented goals and then developing the tools needed to achieve them. It will require being as specific as looking at zip-code level data and as broad as mapping the systems that impact every person in the country to determine the landscape of need and to develop solutions directed at that need.

Crucially, much of our work at the Kennedy Forum will necessitate allying the federal budget with that strategic vision. In the fall of 2023, we will release a comprehensive long-term policy guide—a literal roadmap for government agencies and the leaders within them—that will define our collective path forward over the next several years. A series of gatherings and events, including our Alignment for Progress Conference, will serve as important launching points for conversation and collaboration, and ensure consistency, accountability, and constant refinement of that guide. We will align with partners and public figures willing to talk openly about their own mental health struggles with the goal of reducing a still-lingering stigma that stands in our way of progress. From these partners we will ask for commitments around specific goals, and track those commitments, to lay the groundwork for a community system of care.

Join Our Movement

The Alignment for Progress is an action-oriented movement combining vision, commitment, and investment with the goal of redirecting the future of care.


Defining Guideposts to Our Goals

Over the next five years, we will work together to meet our collective goals and to move the guideposts until we have a system that works for everyone. Certainly, these are not small goals. They are not inexpensive goals. But what we’re dealing with is not a small, nor inexpensive problem. 

What we need at this moment is to think big and to act big,” says Kennedy. “We’re about saving your family’s life. Because every single family is affected by these illnesses.”

Our goal is to bring closer the future where mental illness and substance use is prevented when possible and, when not, treated, effectively and equally for all patients. A future where recovery is as celebrated as remission, and where therapy is as valued as therapeutics. As our families grow stronger, so will our communities and so will, eventually, our country. The results, meanwhile, will be nothing short of revolutionary: happier, healthier children; a more fulfilled workforce; a stronger economy; a better world for us now and for many generations to come. 

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