In 1915, the Indiana Board of State Charities adopted a resolution requesting the Governor to appoint a committee of eight to determine "what the problem of mental defectives is in Indiana, including the epileptic, feebleminded and insane; what is being done for them here and elsewhere, and in the light of the best experience, what programs can be suggested in the state." Clifford Beers, founder of the National Mental Health Association was present for these committee meetings.
In 1916 at the Indiana Conference of Mental Defectives, Clifford Beers helped to organize what was originally called the State Society for Mental Hygiene. Only the third such state organization in the nation, Indiana's mental health organization would be affiliated with the National organization. The Indiana Society and the National organization set forth the following goals:
- to improve attitudes toward mental illness and the mentally ill;
- to improve services for the mentally ill;
- to work for the prevention of mental illness and promote mental health.
Thus began the rich history of what was to be renamed Mental Health America of Indiana, still an affiliate of the National organization. Mental Health America of Indiana (MHAI) has always been a citizens organization and is the only organization today concerned with every aspect of mental health. The organization is involved from infancy through the youth years; from early adulthood to middle age; and from retirement to the senior years with programs that impact individuals who have a mental illness, people in recovery, family members, policymakers and other key stakeholders.
In the early years of the organization, the Executive Director, Joe Brown, understood the value and importance of having citizens involved in the organization. Then, as now, citizen involvement at the grassroots level continues to strengthen the organization.
In 1994, the MHAI board of directors determined that it would strengthen the mission of the organization to create subsidiaries, thereby allowing others to take advantage of MHAI’s strong administrative structure. As a result, Mental Health America of Indiana is the parent corporation of a number of subsidiary organizations that share our mission and expand our reach.
In 1997, the Association board of directors voted to include addiction recovery issues as part of the mission of the organization. In this historic move, a separate subsidiary was formed to focus on building a statewide addictions movement across Indiana. Subsequently, MHAI led an effort to broaden the mission of the National MHA to include addictions advocacy as well.
A strong voice in state government, MHAI has been instrumental in making the mental health and addictions system in Indiana a strong one. The Association was instrumental in creating the Community Mental Health Center system in Indiana. The Association played a leadership role to obtain funding for the creation of the Indiana University Psychiatric Institute. The Association worked with key stakeholders, leading a coalition in 1994 to pass the "Mental Health Plan", the plan for mental health services in the state. In 1999, the Association was able to pass mental health parity in insurance law, so that people with mental illness can obtain insurance on parity with physical insurance. MHAI has since passed legislation that provides mental health and addictions parity in the Children's Health Insurance Program. Since that time, MHAI has passed landmark legislation for open access to medications in the Indiana Medicaid program. Most recently, MHAI passed licensure for addictions counselors in Indiana, something worked on for many years by people in the addiction field but never before accomplished.
The Mental Health America of Indiana continues to strive to fulfill the mission as guided by the founding leaders. By providing education and information to the general public about mental health and addictive disorders, the Association strives to spread understanding and awareness. By providing a strong affiliate system across the state, the Association can lend a grassroots voice to issues that confront us. By providing advocacy at the state level, the Association is able to bring about a policy change. The Association is able to be involved in all aspects of mental health and addiction.