Transforming Mental Health And Addiction Services

Health Aff (Millwood). 2021 Feb;40(2):226-234. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01472. Epub 2021 Jan 21.


Even with great advances in behavioral health policy in the last decade, the problems of mental illness and addiction persist in the United States-so more needs to be done. In this article, which is part of the National Academy of Medicine's Vital Directions for Health and Health Care: Priorities for 2021 initiative, we describe the steps needed to improve outcomes, focusing on three strategies. We argue for transforming the behavioral health system to meet people where they are, decriminalizing mental illness and substance use disorders to facilitate recovery, and raising awareness of social context and social needs as essential to effective care. We call for supporting structures in the workforce and structures of accountability, outcome measurement, and more generous financing of behavioral health care. These steps have costs, but the enormous benefits of a major transformation in behavioral health policy far outweigh the expenses.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mental Health
  • Psychiatry*
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / therapy
  • United States