The Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, Inc. (MAMH) was established in 1913 under the name Massachusetts Society for Mental Hygiene. It was part of a national and international mental hygiene movement started 1905 by Clifford Whittingham Beers. Beers' first-hand experience of poor conditions in psychiatric hospitals motivated him to improve conditions for people with mental health conditions and educate the public on prevention and treatment. Beers wanted his movement to reach beyond hospital walls and into the community, and his hope was that every state would establish a Society for Mental Hygiene.

The founders and original directors in Massachusetts were personally recruited by Beers and included medical and lay leaders of the period, including Charles Elliot, President of Harvard University; Edward A. Filene, Founder of Filene’s Department Stores and the Century Foundation; and Henry Stedman, MD,  Founder of Bournewood Hospital. The original statement of aims and purposes included:

  • To work for the conservation of mental health;
  • To help raise the standard of care for people with or at risk for developing mental health conditions; and
  • To familiarize the public with methods adopted for care and treatment (including for people in institutions and those "boarded out").

Since its inception, MAMH has been committed to prevention and addressing the social determinants of health. We early recognized safe, affordable housing as essential to mental health and well being, leading initiatives for the development of community-based housing for people with mental health conditions. MAMH served as the backbone of community mental health housing and service development efforts as early as the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, MAMH undertook the Equity Project to help rebalance funding for housing and services in communities across the state. We mounted the Homeless Advocacy Project in the early 1980s to educate government executives and legislative policymakers on effective solutions to the complex conditions of individual and family homelessness in Massachusetts and across the nation. In more recent years, MAMH launched our People are Waiting campaign to document the number of Department of Mental Health clients that are on waiting lists for housing or residential support services.

Likewise, MAMH has long been a pioneer and a national leader in the movement to ensure the rights of people with mental health conditions to live and work in integrated settings. In 1975, MAMH joined with a group of patients at the Northampton State Hospital and with the Center for Public Representation to sue the Commonwealth of Massachusetts concerning inadequate care and segregated living at Northampton State Hospital. The case, Brewster v. Dukakis, was the first class action lawsuit in the nation to claim that residents of a state hospital had a constitutional right to receive mental health services in the least restrictive environment. The result was the Northampton Consent Decree, which established the state’s first comprehensive community mental health system. Nearly all of the patients were relocated to community-based programs and services and, eventually, the hospital closed. 

For years, MAMH has also served as a leader in efforts to ensure that people with mental health and substance use conditions receive the same level of health insurance benefits – and access to services -- as people with physical illnesses. This is known as “parity.” In 2000, MAMH led a successful effort to pass Massachusetts’ first comprehensive mental health parity in insurance coverage legislation. We were also a principal partner in 2008 to broaden the law to mandate coverage for medically necessary treatment for substance use disorders, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress and autism, instrumental in engaging the Massachusetts business community to support the legislation. Today, MAMH continues to fight for implementation of parity laws and policies as an active partner of the Massachusetts Mental Health Parity Coalition.

In 2016, MAMH’s Board of Directors developed a thoughtful and comprehensive five-year strategic plan. Building on our history as a policy leader and change agent, the Board has set forth an ambitious agenda to advance mental health and well being by promoting prevention, early intervention, effective treatment, and recovery. While much has changed since 1913, gaps in knowledge and disparities in access persist. MAMH remains grounded in the conviction that all people with mental health challenges be treated with dignity and respect, and have access to the services and supports they need to lead productive lives in the community. We will continue to fight until all people in Massachusetts have access to the opportunities they need to protect their natural resilience and overall health.