Updated: Aug 25, 2021
MOUND CITY – Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center has long had difficulty in reaching all Linn County residents in need of its services. An official with the center acknowledged on Tuesday, July 6, that the location of its office in Pleasanton did not meet the needs of many Linn County residents.
Doug Wright, clinical director of SEKMHC, told the Linn County Commission on Tuesday, July 6, the center had been working to expand its services to other areas of the county.
“We have an office in Pleasanton,” he said, “but I also know that’s a long way from large parts of the county.”
To address that issue, he said, the center has put a case manager and a therapist in the Prairie View USD 362 schools full time. That has greatly helped reach students and parents in that part of the county, he said.
The center, which serves five other counties – including Anderson, Bourbon, Allen, Neosho and Woodson counties – first worked with Humboldt USD 258. With positive results there, the program expanded.
“We serve 10 school districts now,” he said.
There has been some initial reluctance in the schools, and some difficulty in finding office space for SEKMHC staff, Wright said. Initially counselors can be territorial – fearful that the mental health staff will be doing part of their job.
“But we’re doing the things they want to do but don’t have time to do,” he said. Counselors are often too busy with the academic side of their job, while the SEKMHC staff focuses on therapy and case management. Once they see that, our services are more easily accepted.
“Districts are reaching out to us,” Wright said. “Schools are seeing fewer absence days and fewer behavioral problems.”
Having staff in the schools helps the center meet its goals of seeing parents and students together, he said. However sometimes parents come in by themselves.
But also having staff in the schools has helped erase the stigma of seeing mental health professionals. “We’ve added 65 to 70 kids in just this last year,” Wright added.
While SEKMHC has found a way to reach more students, one population continues to be underserved, he said. People 65 and older are difficult to reach and yet they have the growth in rates of suicides.
“About 15 percent of each population is in need of mental health services,” Wright said. With senior citizens, the center sees only about 1 percent to 2 percent while they think the need is actually more like 20 percent.
In Kansas you have a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of mentality, especially with older people, he said. People don’t look for services, so you have to reach out to them.
“You have to build a service that people will actually utilize,” he said. Commission Chair Rick James, a retired Marine, said he had seen the need for mental health services.
“I know the value of it,” he said. “It saves lives in a lot of cases. It really does.”
He added that with so many family issues like broken homes, single parents and blended families, services like SEKMHC offers are particularly important.