As secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius is a member of the presidents Cabinet and in charge of the federal governments efforts to improve the physical and mental well-being of Americans.
By TONY RIZZO
The Kansas City Star
Yet even with her means and influence, she had difficulty getting help recently for two family members with mental health problems.
All of us know someone facing behavioral health issues, she said. We need to get rid of the idea that its somebody else. Its all of us.
The former Kansas governor shared her story with more than 300 people who gathered in Kansas City on Saturday to talk about better mental health care. They found an easy consensus on the idea that more people need to be willing to discuss mental illness to kill the stigma that haunts it.
The bistate mental health dialogue was a joint effort by Kansas City Mayor Sly James, Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Mark Holland and the local nonprofit Consensus.
The Kansas City event was the third of 10 being held in cities across the country in response to President Barack Obamas call for a national dialogue on mental health.
Sebelius said that although mass shootings like the recent carnage at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., were the impetus for the presidents call for a national dialogue, a misconception lingers about mentally ill people acting out violently.
The vast majority of folks are absolutely not violent, she said.
Sebelius said people with mental health issues need to feel as comfortable asking for help as people with physical health problems without the fear of being judged.
According to a national study, about 1 in every 10 adults in the Kansas City area has a serious mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or anxiety disorders. About 40 percent, the study found, go untreated.
Too often, many of those with untreated illnesses end up in jail, said Holland. About 35 percent of those incarcerated in Wyandotte County, he said, have an untreated mental illness.
Weve decided to warehouse people, he said, instead of treat people.
Like Sebelius, Holland said a member of his family suffered from a serious mental illness.
I know the roller coaster my family has been on, he said.
There was a particular focus on addressing the mental health needs of young people at the event.
Early intervention can make a big difference, James said.
Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, chairs the Creating Community Solutions organization coordinating the mental health dialogue across the country.
There has never been anything like this in the United States, she said. Its a real coordinated strategy.
The effort brings together diverse voices and viewpoints and then uses the ideas to implement a community action plan in each city. But while each community comes up with its own ideas, they are all linked together through Creative Community Solutions.
We need to change the tone nationally and commit to action, she said. We still have some of the same attitudes about mental health we had in the 1800s.
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