The Menlo Roundtable

The End of American Concentration Camps: How the Second World War led to the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill

In the early 1940s, the American system of treatment for the mentally ill appeared to be the epitome of an advanced health-care system.

It was centered around state-funded, public institutions that provided care for all mentally ill patients, regardless of their ability to pay. In the years following the Second World War, however, public consensus surrounding the legitimacy of this system dramatically changed from viewing it as enlightened to barbaric. By 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, which created a program to move the treatment of the mentally ill out of isolated state hospitals and into the community. This shift, known as the deinstitutionalization movement, eventually led to the closure of state mental hospitals and the transition in care of the mentally ill to smaller scale, more personal community centers where patients could interact with their families and the outside world.