Deinstitutionalization: Pros & Cons

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Deinstitutionalization was created in the 1960s to move institutionalized people to private care instead of care run by the state. This lesson discusses the pros and cons of this drastic change.


Until the 1960s, the severely mentally ill in the United States were usually cared for in state run mental institutions. They received federal funding but were run by the state. However, John F. Kennedy analyzed the mental institutions and decided a change was in order. He passed the Community Mental Health Centers Act (CMHCA) in 1963.

This act helped move the care for mentally ill from the hands of the state to the hands of the community. The funding for state run mental institutions was cut. This drove many of them to shut their doors permanently and left the mentally ill without care.

However, many institutionalized patients were not severely mentally ill and only needed light care. Lets take a look at some of the pros and cons of deinstitutionalization in America.


Deinstitutionalization had a lot of effect on the mental health environment, some of them positive.

  • Localized Care - Although deinstitutionalization did shut down large state run institutions, it also allowed the community to become more involved by localizing care.
  • Family Involvement - Deinstitutionalization allows family to be closer to their loved ones as they are receiving treatment. State run institutions did not always allow family and friends visitation rights. The change helped bring families back together to be involved.
  • Rights and Responsibilities - The less severely ill patients were able to start living their lives because their rights and responsibilities were given back to them. Due to institutionalization at a young age, some kids were never able to go to school. Now they could try to educate themselves and grow up normally. For the more mentally ill, they were medicated and had to learn how to function day to day in society.
  • Focus on Treatment - Deinstitutionalization brought the focus back on learning to effectively treat the severely mentally ill. Many state run institutions had areas where they hid away the people they thought were untreatable. They wallowed in these areas for years, maybe their whole lives, with no real care. Once the institutions were closed, communities had to recenter and help these people that could not live on their own.


Although deinstitutionalization did help some patients in state run institutions, it also created issues for many others.

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