The Effect of 'Failed' Community Mental Health Centers on Non-White Mortality

50 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2021

See all articles by Mallory Avery

Mallory Avery

University of Pittsburgh

Jessica LaVoice

Bowdoin College

Date Written: July 26, 2021


The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 established Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) across the country with the goal of providing continuous, comprehensive, community-oriented care to people suffering from mental illness. Despite this program being considered a failure by most contemporary accounts, the World Health Organization advocates for a transition from the institutionalization of the mentally ill to a system of community-centered care. In this paper, we construct a novel dataset documenting the rollout of CMHCs from 1971 to 1981 to identify the effect of establishing a CMHC on county level mortality rates, focusing on causes of death related to mental illness. Though we find little evidence that access to a CMHC impacted mortality rates in the white population, we find large and robust effects for the non-white population, with CMHCs reducing suicide and homicide rates by 8% and 14%, respectively. CMHCs also reduced deaths from alcohol in the female non-white population by 18%. These results suggest the historical narrative surrounding the failure of this program does not represent the non-white experience and that community care can be effective at reducing mental health related mortality in populations with the least access to alternative treatment options.


Funding: None to declare.

Declaration of Interest: None to declare.

Keywords: Mental Health, Mortality, Publicly Provided Goods

JEL Classification: H75, I14, I18, I31, I32, I38, J15

Suggested Citation

Avery, Mallory and LaVoice, Jessica, The Effect of 'Failed' Community Mental Health Centers on Non-White Mortality (July 26, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Mallory Avery (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh

Jessica LaVoice

Bowdoin College ( email )

Brunswick, ME 04011
United States

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