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Sept. 18, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. An elementary school shooting nine months ago in Newtown, Conn., prompted President Barack Obama to launch a “Creating Community Solutions” initiative, consisting of 10 high-profile public forums around the country.
The second forum is scheduled here Saturday. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is planning to attend. And about 300 mental health advocates, public officials and citizens also are expected, including Rick Cagan, director of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Though Newtown is no longer the focus of public attention, Cagan said, similar incidents will continue to occur if gaps in the mental health system are not filled.
The shooter in Monday's Washington Navy Yard incident apparently had untreated mental illness despite seeking help.
"These tragic incidents are increasingly a wake-up call for the nation about the need to invest in strengthening quality treatment and support programs for individuals living with serious mental illnesses," Cagan said. "Our mental health system (is) fragmented which presents barriers to treatment, as does the stigma that for many people is still associated with mental illness."
In the wake of Newtown, Sebelius told a gathering of mental health advocates in Nevada that the tragedy presented an opportunity to address mental health issues.
"In the aftermath of the tragedy at Newtown, there’s been an opening for these conversations to begin. While we know that the vast majority of Americans who struggle with a mental illness are not violent, as a nation, we’ve begun to ask what we can do to make sure our neighbors, friends, and family members can get the help they need," she said.
Jennifer Wilding is director of Consensus, the nonprofit group that is coordinating the all-day event.
"The day is about the community being in conversation, so we are keeping speeches to a minimum," Wilding said. "The community will identify actions that they believe need to be taken. We will take the results from Saturday back to a planning team and will build an action plan based on them. We will return to the community and others to build support for taking the actions."
The forum is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown (view map)(download agenda and packet). There are still seats open, Wilding said, but registration is required by 5 p.m. Friday.
Follow the forum via twitter using #MentalHealthMatters and #KC.
Cagan applauded the administration's initiative, and said he hoped the forum would yield practical results.
"Events like the one in Kansas City on Saturday are fundamentally local events, designed to engage local citizens, to focus on essentially local strategies to address the gaps in a fragmented mental health system," he said. "These are incremental kinds of things. Our objective is ongoing, in terms of educating the public about the pervasiveness of mental illness, and the cost of untreated mental illness. It's deplorable."
In Kansas, untreated mental illness costs $1.17 billion annually, according to a 2012 study by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
In announcing the initiative, Obama said: "In any given year, one in five adults experience a mental illness — one in five. Forty-five million Americans suffer from things like depression or anxiety, schizophrenia or PTSD."
"The treatments that are available now — both psychotherapy and medications — are very effective if you can get them. Most people in most situations can be maintained in the community, living independently, getting the supports they need right there at home," Cagan said.
However, he said mental health centers often cannot provide sufficient services, and some are having their budgets cut by county commissions.
"People get a little help but not enough — and so the revolving door kicks in. They're back in the hospital, or in the sheriff's custody, or somewhere else in the system costing money," Cagan said.
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