Community mental health is a movement among psychologists to go beyond care for individual patients to examine the social environment, or community. The movement, which began in the early 1960s, expresses psychologists' increasing concern with preventing mental illness.
Psychologists often disagree about the scope and techniques of community mental health, but most workers attempt to do the following:(1) recognize the social environment's role in producing stress, and so intervene at the social as well as individual level; (2) examine the features of the environment that interfere with general well-being and coping (positive mental health) as well as those that cause identifiable mental illnesses; (3) prevent disorders by identifying and reducing stresses and by increasing coping skills through education and early intervention; and (4) increase access to psychological services by locating centers in the community, training local citizens to staff them, and making services affordable.
The tools of community health come from social and clinical psychology, from public health, and occasionally from political science. Community psychologists work as consultants to local citizens' groups, as program administrators and evaluators, as educators, and as political organizers. In addition they sometimes provide direct services. Critics of community mental health point to the lack of scientific knowledge about the causes and hence the prevention of mental illness and maintain that individual political preferences are sometimes presented as facts by community psychologists. Others fear that the emphasis on community will infringe on individual privacy and liberty.