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King County Passes Landmark Mental Health Law

On Oct. 16, 2000, King County, Washington, passed the nation’s first ordinance requiring assessments of public mental health facilities to determine what percentage of patients are “getting well.”

The law was originated, in part, by actress Margot Kidder of Lois Lane fame in the film Superman. Kidder experienced many years of psychiatric treatment for “manic depression,” culminating in a highly public collapse reported widely in the media. Kidder was then treated with nutritional methods and her lifelong battle with mental troubles ended.

After personally experiencing the benefit of being cured or “getting well,” Kidder felt the need to urge King County council members to consider adopting this standard for all King County residents. The council concurred.

Assessment of the current treatment outcomes in King County revealed that last year only 5% of treated mental health patients could be classified as “well.”

The ordinance puts tremendous pressure on King County Mental Health officials to adopt treatments that cure or directly treat, rather than mask, severe mental symptoms. According to Merrily Manthy, who helped write the ordinance, “Present treatments for the mentally ill have generally disappointing results and are characterized as high cost Band-Aids.”

The ordinance defines “well” and “wellness.” Being “well” means, by definition, a client who is free of disability, employable, connected with friends and family; and has a generally positive outlook on life. If the person is taking medications or nutritional supplements, then the client must also be free of adverse side effects.

If the person is in the age range of 21-59 years, “wellness” includes being engaged in volunteer work, pursuing educational or vocational degrees, or contributing to family support. A client in that same age range lives independently or has chosen other living arrangements to facilitate the client’s activities with respect to volunteerism, education, work or family. Being “well” means that an adult client is not receiving publicly funded mental treatment except for occasional recommended periodic checkups, and has been discharged from the county’s mental health system.

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