WyCo mental health services agency encourages conversation to remove mental illness stigma
As a member of a board charged with spreading awareness of mental health services in Wyandotte County, Rita Hoag knows it’s not just awareness that keeps people from getting help.
The Bonner Springs resident said she knows there is a stigma in society related to mental illnesses — that a lot of people think that people with mental illnesses should be hidden away.
“A lot of people don’t actively treat it as an illness, and mental illness is just as much an illness as a physical illness,” Hoag said.
That’s why for Mental Health Awareness Month in May, the Metropolitan Council of Community Health Centers and Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition have selected the theme “It’s OK to Talk: Mental Health Matters in Kansas City.”
Wyandotte County’s mental health services are provided through Wyandot, Inc., which includes the Wyandot Center for adults and PACES for children and families. But Wyandot, Inc.’s facilities are largely in the eastern portion of the county — the facility that is farthest west is the Washington West building near 78th and State Avenue.
So it is the duty of the nine-member Western Wyandotte County Mental Health Advisory board to spread the awareness of those mental health services in areas like Bonner Springs and Edwardsville. Hoag, former Bonner city clerk, has been on the board since 1997 and is now its chair.
“Sometimes I feel like we’re not doing enough to get the information out … to make sure that the doctors’ offices or dentists or chiropractors here in town, all of those who provide a service have that information,” Hoag said. “If somebody happens to see something in somebody’s office that gets them to make a phone call to help either themselves, a family member or someone they know, then we’re doing our job of getting information out.”
Therese Horvat, director of communications for Wyandot, Inc., agreed that society’s view of mental illness is one of the biggest barriers to getting people to seek treatment.
“Our goal is to get people to recognize that mental illness is a health problem and it can be treated,” she said. “But there still is that stigma that they don’t want to admit or talk about having that issue.”
One in four Americans is likely to experience a mental health disorder in a given year, and in 2012, 505 Kansans took their lives, a 30 percent increase from the year before. But people don’t discuss mental health issues as openly as they do illnesses like cancer or heart disease, Horvat said.
According to a study conducted by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the economic toll exacted by untreated mental illness in Kansas is $1.17 billion; Wyandotte County absorbs about $64 million of that cost.
Wyandot, Inc., services have been growing. At the end of this month, PACES will open a new safe home for children in crisis. PACES was able to raise $1.1 million in just 13 months to build the facility, which will be able to help up to 10 children ages 3 to 18 for up to 72 hours after they are removed from their home.
Wyandot, Inc. also provides a 24-hour crisis hotline, a psychiatric services clinic, the Frank Williams Outreach Center for persons homeless or in need, and a 24-hour crisis stabilization service for people facing mental health or substance abuse crises.
“We’re trying to provide community based services and make them user friendly to help families and individuals get access to care so they can get better,” Horvat said. “Our whole goal is to improve the quality of people’s lives so they can live happy and productive lives.”
While Wyandot, Inc., doesn’t have a facility in the western portion of the county, Horvat said it does provide crisis intervention team training with Bonner Springs and Edwardsville police departments, training law enforcement officers to recognize the warning signs of mental illness when on a call.
Additionally, PACES works collaboratively with USD 204 school counselors and families to facilitate access to needed services for children and adolescents who may be experiencing emotional or behavioral issues.
But citizens also need to take it upon themselves to seek out help when needed.
“It’s not like (Wyandot, Inc.) can go out and find people to help,” Hoag said. "They rely a lot on referrals from doctors and pastors."
Horvat stressed that Wyandot, Inc., services are open to anyone in the county, and they provide services for people regardless of their ability to pay.
Horvat said a good place to start for anyone seeking help with mental health problems is the free, 24-hour crisis line, 913-788-4200.