WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The tragic death of Dr. Achutha Reddy, allegedly at the hands of one of his own patients, left our community stunned. But that shock and sorrow gave way to a harsh reality: Hundreds of patients battling mental illness were left to find help somewhere else.
It’s part of a bigger problem that shows a mental health system stretched beyond its limits.
If you or someone you know is talking about suicide, please call the suicide prevention hotline 24 hours a day/7 days a week.
(316) 660-7500 in Sedgwick County or
(800) 273-8255 (TALK)
Kelly Jones has battled mental illness from a very young age. At 12 years old, she attempted suicide for the first time. Fifteen years later, she tried again. But she now talks openly and honestly about her struggles so that someone else might find help much quicker than she did.
“That’s how I think I ended up there,” she said of her troubles. “I couldn’t deal with what happened to me.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone who could. Kelly grew up in the foster system, bouncing from home to home. For that reason, she has no pictures to look back on, but the memories are still vivid.
“Being molested. Meeting a woman at seven who you don’t know. She says you’re her mom and she sells you.”
That kind of trauma follows you. Her anger led to violence. She used drugs to numb the pain. She stole to survive.
“You’re going to end up in jail,” she said. “You’re going to end up in prison. You’re going to have drug addicts out here doing things to people, breaking into people’s houses because they don’t have the help. They don’t know there’s another way.”
Kelly spent a year in prison for petty theft. When she was released just three years ago, she was homeless and hopeless, and that’s when she discovered the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas. Without them…
“I think I would’ve been dead,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “I would have been dead.”
WHERE ARE THE SHORTCOMINGS?
Mary Jones is the President and CEO of the MHA. Their goal is to reach people, like Kelly, before their mental illness spirals out of control.
“What we know is earliest intervention is most effective,” said Jones. “The system is not really set up for prevention.”
That leads to reactive treatment rather than proactive therapy. Too often, those suffering wait to hit a breaking point before reaching out for help.
“For most people who don’t know any better and they’re going to show up in an emergency room,” Mary admitted,” and that’s going to be a crisis moment and the inability to navigate that system is a problem.
She points to a number of reasons including an overall lack of insurance coverage and limits within the state’s Medicaid system.
Society is still wrestling with the stigma of mental illness and that leads some to put off getting help. But one of the biggest issues is simply a lack of trained professionals.
“Client to behavioral health provider is 1:550,” she said, citing a recent study. “That’s a pretty disparaging statistic for the state of Kansas.”
Those numbers look even more daunting when you start talking about wrap around care and the cost that goes with it. That means a doctor, therapist, case manager and attendant care worker may be assigned to the needs of a single patient.
But the National Alliance on Mental Illness touts this as the best approach for long-term success.
“I think that’s so important to getting people help because it keeps you out of the hospitals,” NAMI board member Lynn Kohr said. “It keeps you out of the crisis situations that cost so much money.”
“Client to behavioral health provider is 1:550. That’s a pretty disparaging statistic for the state of Kansas.”
— Mary Jones, President and CEO, MHA
Another cost-effective option is peer services, or allowing those who deal with their own mental illness to lead support groups or supervise long-term housing.
“Those are the people who can really connect with our consumers,” Mary Jones said,” and help them understand the journey offers recovery.”
A COMEBACK STORY OF HOPE
Kelly Jones is seeing the benefits of wrap around care. A mix of medication, therapy and peer support is helping her find happiness she never thought possible.
She recently graduated from esthetics school and one day hopes to own her own salon.
“They gave me hope to say, ‘okay, I don’t have to do the things I did before. I can change; I can do this.’ Even the days that I thought I couldn’t,” Kelly said.
And despite the challenges facing our mental health community, Mary Jones urges anyone who is suffering to ask for help.
“That’s our job, so you come to us with your need, we’re going to figure it out,” she said.
The Mental Health Association is just one group in Wichita that treats those with mental illness. Here are some other resources you can turn to in need. If your need is urgent, don’t hesitate to call the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Crisis Line at (316) 660-7500. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also listed below.
- Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Sedgwick County COMCARE
- Sedgwick County Community Crisis Center
- Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Coalition
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)