Mental Health Public Conversation (Hutchinson, Kansas)


Single, 2-hour event

Number of Participants: 


With what other organizations in your community did you partner when convening this conversation, if any?: 

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Natioanl Alliance on Mental Illness - Kansas

What were the most important things you learned during the process of organizing the dialogue?: 

Some relevant values mentioned were:  compassion, inclusion, acceptance, open-mindedness and safety, accountability, responsible self-care, understanding, honesty, relationship, affordability and accessibility.

The line is blurry between individual rights and safety. It’s difficult to determine who gets to decide when treatment is needed.   There shouldn't be polarization between treatment and criminalization.

There needs to be better mental health programs and more funding.

Support is invaluable.

 We need to make treatment more available for everyone. Everyone should have access to care.  Like an annual medical check-up, we could have annual mental health check-ups.  We need more testing, diagnosis, takes too long to achieve results.  We need to consider the whole person; we need holistic treatment; we need a better system.

To reduce stigma, family members should share.   The public needs more understanding of mental health – such as the universal experience of stress and the continuum toward when mental illness is severe.  This understanding will help de-stigmatize mental illness.

We need to stay positive while dealing with the mental illness of others.  What would be most helpful to our community is more public awareness, education and training of everyone – including doctors, police, parents, educators...We need preventive health care.  We need new professionals of para-psychiatrist or psych-practitioners.

What actions did you identify that your community can pursue to improve mental health, especially among young people?: 

Regarding the approach that individual privacy and self-determination are primary: 

Its important to allow people to participate in decisions that affect their life.  But people with mind-altering diseases can make life-threatening choices.  There is a high emotional cost to families who have to watch a relative attempt suicide, etc.  Sometimes the price of letting emergency responders know that there is mental illness in the family is that the affected person won't get care when they need it.  We need a way to manage irrationality with this approach.

  We need a back-up plan when life falls apart about age 18.  A mentally ill person needs support throughout life -until they are healthy and independent.  This approach supports the values of respect for privacy and personal freedom.  It can violate the values of public safety, care for others.  The conflicts are stepping on others' toes; infringing others' rights, and awareness that a mentally ill person cannot always make good decisions.

A problem with this approach is that someone who is off their medication my not be capable of making their own decisions; we need to also consider the rights of others.  This approach promotes individual rights but also isolationism and stigma.  Stigma seems to be the overriding problem – it matters to the individual affected and it also is significant for accepting mental illness as a social problem.  We need to understand that this is an equal opportunity illness – anyone can get it.


Regarding the approach that relies on Public Responsibility:

We need a judicial process for determining whether a person should enter the criminal justice system or the healthcare system.  There should be an evaluation mediator or ombudsman.  There should not be an adversarial approach with prosecution and defense making this determination.  This approach served public safety and supports educating all professionals.  It violates individual freedom and economic justice; capitalism is on the wrong side here.

The community needs to be willing to spend money for treatment centers.  How is it determined whether a person is dangerous or not?  This decision is difficult.

Parents of mentally ill people may be more comfortable sharing information so that people will always get the help they need.  When mentally ill people are warehoused, their condition may worsen.  Even when information is shared, people do not get the help they need.  Devaluation of human life is the biggest problem.  People are afraid because they don't understand what mental illness is.

Sometimes mentally ill people are anxious about independence.

Everyone doesn't see the same value in a mentally ill person.  Parents can see value that others can't.

There are times when a mentally ill person can make good decisions for themselves and when the illness is active, there is less capacity for self-responsibility.  We can't have cookie-cutter treatment or law enforcement.

Severe psychopathy is a small population and as a last resort for the safety of society, there needs to be community responsibility.  However, there is a disconnect between people wanting to pay for the service and the need for safety/security.

In the 1980's, mental institutions were closed, with the promise that community programs would be established, but this didn't happen.


Regarding the Approach of Treatment over Criminalization:

Treatment gives people with mental illness the chance to have a normal life. People need to be treated so that they change their behavior. Jail doesn't help.

Programs could be established in jail with trained staff and separation from healthy prisoners.  You shouldn't be jailed for a personality disorder.

In Reno County now, mental health advocates are coming into the jail to help people.  Many are already Horizons clients and need to have their medications.

This is important because treatment is a dynamic relationship, which can include the problem that mentally ill people want to stay in the illness because its what they know.

We need to remember that 60% of adults with a mental illness are not diagnosed.  If a crime is committed by someone who is diagnosed and that person is under care, then things will go better for them.  We need to address this matter on a case-by-case basis.

Mentally ill people don't belong in jail; and there need to be better programs in jail for mentally ill.

This approach will move faster with trained crisis intervention teams.  There should be ongoing training for all law enforcement officials and it should be part of basic training.

There needs to be more treatment places; families need education and support.  More public funds need to go to healthcare and less to jails and courts.

There should be a prevention focus in insurance and care, including substance abuse programs.

We need a more comprehensive approach.

Treatment and criminalization are not mutually exclusive.  Sometimes jail is helpful, if everything else has been tried and failed.

Its important to consider how much worse we are making someone's mental illness by putting them in jail.  Its good for everyone when there is collaboration between mental health providers and law enforcement.