Mental health group hopes to educate public on issues
By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
The National Alliance on Mental Illness does not want its constituents linked with the infamy of the Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown and Aurora tragedies.
Intent on removing the stigma surrounding mental, emotional and behavioral issues, NAMI hosted a forum Friday on mass shootings at Fort Hays State University. The public conversation was part of the mental health advocacy group's annual conference.
Rick Cagan, executive director of NAMI Kansas, said the attention from the high-profile series of mass murders has been a double-edged sword for the mentally ill community.
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, Gov. Sam Brownback withdrew a proposal to cut $10 million designated for mental health treatment, Cagan said. Brownback's predecessors had cut $20 million in six years, he said.
Cagan said he hoped the forum would encourage a thorough conversation on the state of mental health care because the media and society tend to attribute all mass murders to deranged madmen. The perpetrators might have been mentally ill, but aggravating factors triggered their rampages, Cagan said.
"We have to be more comfortable talking about incidents in which mental illness is implicated," he said. "We have to defuse and separate the violence from the mental health issues."
Cagan said everyone has a stake in the matter because it has economic implications. Its effect on the afflicted individuals and those around them take a heavy toll, he said.
According to a survey, the problem costs Kansas $1.17 billion per year in wasted productivity and lost wages, Cagan said. Although there is 85 percent to 90 percent unemployment among people with serious mental illness, 60 percent of them want to work at least part-time jobs, Cagan said.
Dr. Carol Patrick, a professor of psychology at FHSU who spoke at the forum, said the topic of mass shootings can be a constructive conversation.
"I'm interested in the idea of people who are dealing with mental health diagnoses, empowering themselves through knowledge and educating others about stereotypes," Patrick said.
Patrick's presentation examined the men behind mass shooting sprees and the tell-tale signs they exhibited that went unheeded.
Suicide threats, reclusive behavior, extreme narcissism, obsession with violence and a fascination with previous mass murderers all were red flags that should have prompted proactive measures to treat the men before they hurt others, Patrick said.
Cagan said people need to have the proper perspective on the issue to recognize the extent of the crisis.
"If we said 60 percent of people with cardiovascular disease are not getting effective treatment, most people in Ellis County would be outraged," Cagan said.