Our History

Mental Health Minnesota was founded in 1939, and was the state’s first mental health advocacy and education organization. We are a non-profit and non-partisan organization, and an affiliate of Mental Health America.


The Early Years…1939 to 1959

Mental Health Minnesota was founded on May 8, 1939 as the Minnesota Mental Hygiene Society at a meeting in the Hotel Lowry of St. Paul. Within a year of formation, the Society had 170 members, collecting $456 in membership dues.

These early years focused on getting organized, bringing forth the Society’s articles of incorporation, bylaws, programs, and goals. The goals emphasized children’s mental health at first, bypassing a public education campaign due to costs and effectiveness doubts. Pursuing legislative changes consistent with the Society’s mission, members were successful in improving conditions in psychiatric state hospitals.

In 1950, the Society promoted Minnesota’s first Mental Health Week (April 23-29). That year also saw the formation of the National Association of Mental Health. In 1955, the organization became an affiliate member of NAMH, now Mental Health America.

By 1949, the Society collaborated closely with the newly-formed Citizens Mental Health Committee, started during the tenure of Governor Luther Youngdahl, a strong champion of mental health rights and treatment options in the state. The Society and the Committee merged in 1953 to form the precursor of the Mental Health Association of Minnesota.

In 1956, the organization created a pioneering educational program for the business community, challenging Minnesota companies to address the issue of mental illnesses in the workplace, while a year later the Mental Health Association of Minnesota was instrumental in securing passage of the 1957 Community Mental Services Act, which established community mental health centers throughout Minnesota.


The Growing Years…1959 to 1979

The organization’s membership grew from 500 in 1958 to 57,000 by 1965. In 1967, the Mental Health Association of Minnesota pushed for the first major overhaul of the state’s antiquated commitment procedures with the near-unanimous passage of the Hospitalization and Commitment Bill. In 1973, the organization helped to establish a statutory right to treatment and a Patient’s Bill of Rights in the state hospital system.

In 1977, the organization inaugurated REACH, a mutual support group for family members and friends of individuals with mental illnesses. The program design was to provide understanding and Reassurance to EACH individual (thus, the acronym REACH). The Mental Health Association of Minnesota also released significant reports on shock therapy and psychosurgery to the public and media, which focused on the issue of informed consent.


Moving to Modern Times…1979 to 1999

In 1978, the Mental Health Association of Minnesota celebrated Mental Health Month with five Minnesota governors at a significant fundraiser and symposium. In 1983, the organization was awarded a McKnight grant, which helped, in part, to establish the Law Advocates Network of trained advocates available to help current or former psychiatric patients. In 1986, mental health advocacy and education came to northern Minnesota with the opening of the Duluth office.

The Mental Health Association of Minnesota offered a federally funded program— the Depression/Awareness, Recognition and Treatment (D/ART) Program—from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, which emphasized the treating of depression before it led to a crisis.

In 1987 and 1989, the organization successfully lobbied to gain the passage of the Adult and Children’s Mental Health acts, while 1995 saw the passage of Minnesota’s landmark Insurance Parity Law and 1997 the Patient Protection Act.

The Mental Health Association of Minnesota also began working toward a formal merger with the Minnesota Depressive and Manic Depressive Association.


Expanding Services and Resources…1999 to 2015

In October 2001, the Mental Health Association of Minnesota received the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits “2001 Minnesota Nonprofit Mission Award” for program advocacy.

In 2000 and 2001, the organization hosted conferences with the Center for Health Law & Policy at William Mitchell College of Law, entitled “Best Mental Health Practices in the Workplace: It’s Your Business.” The organization also researched and produced a study entitled “Best Mental Health Practices in the Workplace: A Report on Minnesota Employers” as well as “Mental Illness in the Workplace: A Resource Guide for Minnesota Employers,” to help employers access the resources needed to support employees with mental health disabilities.

Remembrance and Recovery was published in 2005. This book was the result of writing workshops offered to individuals living with mental illnesses. Through the workshops, individuals learned how to tell their stories of recovery in their own words. The book provides hope to those living with a mental illness and a greater understanding about recovery for others.

The Mental Health Association of Minnesota moved into the digital age by providing resources on its website and continually finding ways to connect to those in need of advocacy and support. The organization also began building a presence on social media, working to promote hope and recovery.

In 2015, the Mental Health Association of Minnesota acquired a new service, the Minnesota Warmline, which provided peer support via phone to people working on their mental health recovery.

The Mental Health Association of Minnesota also changed its name and tagline in 2015, to Mental Health Minnesota. A Mental Health Ambassador network was also started to spread the message of hope, wellness and recovery across Minnesota.

Promoting Mental Health for All…2016 to The Present

In 2017, Mental Health Minnesota became an affiliate of Mental Health America. As an affiliate, Mental Health Minnesota has embraced the national organization’s #B4Stage4 approach to mental health, focused on early recognition of symptoms, screenings for mental health condition, and access to services and support, with a goal of recovery for all who live with a mental health condition.

The Warmline also added texting and online chat options to its service, and expanded its hours several times to meet needs. The Minnesota Warmline now responds to thousands of calls, texts and online chats every year, helping people to stay well and avoid crisis.

Mental Health Minnesota expanded its online mental health screening program, as well as information and referrals provided to people across Minnesota.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization expanded online resources available to the public through its website, and also collaborated with other organizations to provide support to healthcare providers and other essential workers.

Mental Health Minnesota joined the state’s Zero Suicide efforts in 2021, and is expanding its work to include text and online chat response to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

To help address concerns about youth mental health, Mental Health Minnesota also developed a new online chat service providing peer support for teens and young adults called “We Can RELATE.”

Learn More About the History of Mental Health Minnesota