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Advocates stress need for public education about mental illness

By Mike Sherry for KHI News Service, Sept. 24, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Advocates need to educate the public about the realities of mental illness, which affects millions of Americans each year.

That was the consensus of about 360 people who gathered here Saturday for a daylong “community dialogue” on the topic of mental health.

An electronic tally showed that the meeting participants believed that forums, public service announcements, and other public awareness initiatives would be among the best way to improve mental health in the community.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Kansas City, Kan. Mayor Mark Holland told the group, “and we are going to make it happen.”

Other steps suggested included incorporating mental health screenings at schools and wellness checkups and improving coordination of services.

The event, Creating Community Solutions-Kansas City, was organized with help from the mayors of Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan. It was one of several community dialogues taking place around the country through an initiative started by President Barack Obama in the wake of last year’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

There’s a website for the effort that includes outcomes from the two previous conversations in Albuquerque, N.M., and Sacramento, Calif.

Saturday’s results should be posted on the national website this week, said Jennifer Wilding, who coordinated the event as director of Consensus, a local nonprofit that specializes in organizing group discussions.

She said the team that planned the Kansas City event also would craft an action plan. That process could take until the end of the year, though a draft could be finished next month.

“I think this was a wonderful opportunity to show what is possible when you bring people together, give them meaningful tasks and an exceptional process, and just let them work,” Wilding said. “People will rise to the occasion and I think we saw that Saturday.”

Approximately one in five American adults will experience a mental health problem during the course of a year, according to data presented at the meeting. Three-fourths of all lifetime cases start by age 24.

Organizers estimated that about 40 percent of the mentally ill in the Kansas City area go without treatment.

Much of the discussion Saturday focused on the problems of mentally ill young people, ages 12 through 24.

Participants spoke of the need for better continuity of care for at-risk teens and pre-teens once they age out of youth programs and potentially fall through the cracks as young adults.

They agreed there was a need for more licensed mental health workers in schools and for more job and volunteer opportunities to keep the young people productively occupied.

For those ages 18 to 24, there needs to be more support for families and better access to transitional living and housing options. Development of positive peer role models and mentors also would be beneficial.

People at one table pledged that each of them would talk to 10 people about mental illness following the event.

The spokesman for another table said he and his tablemates would write politicians in Missouri and Kansas about their “wrongheaded opposition” to the Medicaid expansion encouraged through the federal health-reform law.

Lauren Woodward, 26, of Lee’s Summit, said she would continue sharing her story of mental illness and recovery through a program of the National Alliance on Mental Illness called In Our Own Voice.

“Today was an amazing day,” she said. “I think more people will receive treatment after all the work people have done here today.”

Others also said they felt confident the meeting would result in improved services for the mentally ill.
Linda Barber, of Kansas City, Kan., was a table facilitator. She said she and her husband are health information technology consultants.

“It was a conversation that was needed,” she said. “It puts legs on an issue that has been ignored for a long time.”

The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City is proud to partner with the KHI News Service to provide weekly health stories about health and policy issues impacting the greater Kansas City region. Because it is committed to objective coverage, HCF exercises no editorial control over the content. The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute.

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