Karen Kelley has tried to kill herself several times, but she does not want to die.
There was one way for her to get the mental health care that she desperately needed, even if it meant attempting suicide. Psychiatric hospital beds and treatment center slots are severely limited for the mentally ill, unless one poses a danger to herself or someone else.
Kelley is one of many who suffers mental illness and can’t find help. One in five Americans experienced a mental illness last year.
The long-standing belief that those who are mentally ill are homeless and disheveled is simply untrue. It’s your friend, neighbor, family member or perhaps you.
“Mental illness is a real health condition,” said Peter Delaney, Ph.D., who is the director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Diabetes, blood pressure and heart conditions are real threats to those who suffer from untreated mental illness. Why must we increase our commitment to mental health care?
The negative effects of doing nothing include increased incarcerations, poor parenting, domestic violence, suicide and economic losses. Each year, 217 million workdays are completely or partially lost because of mental illness. Yet, more than half a million Americans are unable to find the mental health resources that they need.
Politics often is a factor in whether our elected officials vote to increase funding for mental health care. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed money that would have increased mental health care funding. He also rejected a Kansas City project that would have created a crisis stabilization center, which would address the ongoing problem of mentally ill people like Kelley flooding emergency departments.
This type of center would provide a much-needed resource for those who are in desperate need of treatment. The Kansas City Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team partners a police officer with a professional mental health liaison to visit mentally ill residents. There aren’t enough Crisis Intervention Team liaisons in our community, and only 15 percent of U.S. law enforcement agencies offer this training.
Given recent national and local conversations about community and police relations, doesn’t it make sense that we consider the effect of mental illness in our criminal justice system? Journalist and documentary filmmaker Michael Price’s “Lost Minds: KC’s Mental Health Crisis” shows us the increasing number of confrontations and conflicts between people with mental illness and officers.
The film clearly demonstrates that police officers increasingly must contend with the challenges of the mentally ill. In addition to the criminal justice system, there are other systems that must join the effort to advocate for increased services and funding for mental health care.
Collaboration between disciplines is essential so that we may fully understand the mental health needs of our community. Physicians, social workers, case managers, elected officials, police officers, clergy and citizens all have responsibility to create a system of care that addresses the 100,000 Kansas City residents who do not receive care for serious mental health conditions.
Our local citizens, communities and country will continue to experience the aftershocks of a broken mental health care system until we devote our time, energy and resources to this cause.
Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct professor. She lives in Platte City. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.