In 1972, a federal court ruled that patients in mental health facilities could no longer work at these institutions without pay. The impact of this ruling further changed the nature of the Mental Health Center, for now the remainder of the agricultural pursuits and dairy farming had to go, as well as the upkeep of much of the grounds. The institutions didn’t have enough money to pay the patients for their contributions and also didn’t have adequate money or staffing to occupy patients with abundant much free time. The costs of housing patients increased dramatically, patients became bored and felt they lacked the purpose they once clung to, thus the need to de-institutionalize was more prevalent then ever.
As more patients were de-institutionalized, cottages and buildings were gradually closed at the Athens mental institution. Budgets because increasingly restricted and utilities to unused buildings had to be cut off. Farming and dairy activities gradually ceased, leaving large tracts of land fallow.
During the de-institutionalization process, three out of every four patients were released from the Athens Asylum. The relocating trauma was great; patients were released to their families, nursing homes, and half- way houses. The homeless population soared, the mentally ill population representing nearly a third. The state pushed this process along by offering monetary rewards for decreasing the number of in-patients in asylums.
The number of patients in mental institutions in the United States was reduced to 100,000 by 1986. The Athens Mental Health Center has emphasized short-term inpatient care since 1976, and refers patients to the Tri- County Mental Health and Counseling Service for out- patient care. By the mid-1970s the long and short-term inpatient population was reduced to 300-400 patients, and by 1987 to around 200.