Changing Our Name, and Changing the Conversation about Mental Health and Substance Use Challenges

What’s in a name?

A lot.

Our story began in 1969, when we were known as the National Council of Community Mental Health Centers.

That name made sense at the time, but times change and organizations must change to reflect the times.

When we changed our name in 2013 to the National Council for Behavioral Health, that change also made sense for the era, embracing a name that once again reflected who our members were and what they did.

But our story didn’t end there. This month we started a new chapter, changing our name to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

Introducing the National Council for Mental Wellbeing

It’s important to explain the reason behind this change.

In 2019 we began to gather input from people throughout the organization, the Board of Directors, members, staff and consultants because we wanted to determine whether our name was still serving us well.

Throughout those discussions, an important idea surfaced among a significant group of stakeholders – the term “behavioral health” had become ill-defined and was seldom used among professionals and volunteers. Today, it’s widely believed the term “behavioral health” fails to fully, completely define the role of our nearly 3,500 members who provide vital care in communities across the country.

This was our opportunity to rectify that, change the narrative and be more inclusive of those with substance use challenges.

For too long, our nation has viewed substance use as a stigmatized, personal moral failing to be dealt with in private. But substance use, and substance use challenges, do not happen in isolation. Treatment and support services are best delivered at the intersection of mental health and substance use.

The good news is that we have made incremental progress to overcome outdated views surrounding mental health and substance use. For instance, treatment for those with both mental health and substance use challenges has begun to move into mainstream medicine and culture. But we haven’t fully integrated care. And nearly 30 million people across the U.S. don’t have access to comprehensive, high-quality, affordable mental health and substance use care
when they need it.

So we intend to shed light on the need to make mental wellbeing, including recovery from substance use challenges, a reality for everyone.

Achieving wellbeing means overcoming all challenges. Wellbeing is about the whole person – the whole experience, whether that’s a mental health or substance use challenge. We cannot be mentally well and actively thriving if we are unable to access services and support to navigate a mental health or substance use challenge.

Our new name – which we have proudly unveiled during Mental Health Awareness Month – more aptly reflects the reason our members do the work they do, helps us reach more people in new ways and further articulates our impact and aspirations.

It promotes greater inclusivity because we are changing how we view mental health and substance use. Just as other parts of health care have moved toward “whole person” health models, mental health and substance use challenges must also be addressed in a comprehensive and holistic context.

The mission of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing is to change the system so people can get the care they need.

Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way mental health and substance use treatment services are provided in this country. The pandemic has increased levels of depression and anxiety and fueled our nation’s overdose epidemic. But it has also increased awareness about mental health and substance use challenges and the urgent need for care.

Now we must take advantage of this opportunity to help those in need. This is a defining moment in our 52-year history. So many communities have an overwhelming need for mental health and substance use treatment and care.

So, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and its hard-working members will continue to raise awareness about the need to identify consistent federal funding for mental health and substance use programs, eliminate barriers to access, reduce stigma and support recovery in all forms.

And we will continue to promote wellbeing – for everyone.

Our story isn’t over. In fact, the best is yet to come.


Charles Ingoglia, MSW
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing
See bio