Saturday, September 21, 2013

How much of the mental health cuts is really Brownback?

It's no secret that the Kansas government likes to cut budgets. And, when it comes to cuts to mental health funding, the state is starting to lag behind: we've cut our budget for mental health services by 12 percent since 2009, and we don't stack up that favorably compared to other states, either.

And, as with most policy related to the Kansas budget, it may be tempting to blame Gov. Sam Brownback, whose small-government philosophy has driven his supporters to shrink spending. But surprisingly, for many mental health centers included in the budgets for upcoming fiscal years, Brownback recommended more funding, but was shot down by the Legislature. In some cases, the difference could have greatly expanded the coverage these centers could provide — take Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan., which is slated to receive $7.2 million in fiscal year 2015, but for which Brownback recommended a little over $8 million.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Week at KU: GaDuGi SafeCenter to hold candlelight vigil

Women's mental health issues are taking center stage at the University of Kansas this week, as GaDuGi SafeCenter, a Lawrence sexual violence counseling center, partners with the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity for Sexual Assault Awareness Week. This is the fourth year that GaDuGi has been part of the event.

In addition to storytelling- and discussion-based events, the program for this year will include a candlelight vigil for survivors of sexual assault at KU's Campanile bell tower. The bell will be rung once for every person GaDuGi has assisted in the past year.

"We're expecting the candlelight vigil to have a very good turnout this year," said Chrissy Heikkila, interim executive director of GaDuGi. "It's one of the most powerful events."

The vigil starts at 8 p.m. at the Campanile.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Coming up this week: Time to talk about Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"?

While I don't read too much feminist literature, I have a hunch that it can't be healthy for women to be bombarded with hypersexualized images by pop culture outlets. Case in point: The criticism of "Blurred Lines," Robin Thicke's song of the summer, is continuing to heat up to a fever pitch. Sure, this song has drawn fire since its release in March from feminist critics who have called its lyrics and its music video misogynistic, "rape-y" and demeaning to women, but I never would have guessed that would be enough to get it banned from buildings on a university campus. Yet that is exactly what happened last week at Edinburgh University in the United Kingdom.

If you think it's time to have a frank discussion about this song and how it might be detrimental to women's self-image and mental health (or even affect people's attitudes toward sexual assault), you're not alone. For those of you in the Lawrence, Kan., area, the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity at the University of Kansas is holding a discussion centering on the song Tuesday, Sept. 17, as part of its Sexual Assault Awareness Week. The event starts at 7 p.m., and will be held in the Kansas Union, so if you're interested in mental health issues focusing on women, you may want to stop by.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Suicide Prevention Week: The last lines of defense

While counseling and treatment of underlying mental health issues are some of the most reliable methods of preventing suicide attempts, there's still the question of what happens when the warning signs of suicide go unnoticed. There are final lines of defense in high-suicide areas around the world, though, and, according to a recent report, they can be surprisingly effective at both deterring suicides and encouraging vulnerable people to seek help.

The report, from BioMedCentral Public Health, examines data collected from "suicide hotspots" in several different countries — well-known buildings and bridges at which suicides are frequently attempted. Deterrent methods used at these sites have been as crude as erecting barriers to prevent potential jumpers from getting through and as intimate as using signs or other methods of communication to encourage people to seek help, and they've significantly reduced the amount of suicides attempted at these spots.

This reminds me of a bridge I read about a while back — the Mapo Bridge in South Korea, a nation with a high suicide rate in comparison to other developed countries. Earlier in 2013, lighted, motion-activated signs were installed along the Seoul bridge, displaying encouraging, life-affirming messages to pedestrians passing by. It may seem odd, but it worked — at this bridge known for grisly statistics, suicide rates have fallen by nearly 80 percent since the installation of the signs. While methods like this will never be a substitute for quick psychological intervention and treatment, it may be worthwhile for governments and organizations wanting to help prevent suicides to look into them — after all, with issues like this, any help is valuable.

A lighted sign on the Mapo Bridge in Seoul, South Korea. Source: Digital Market Asia

Monday, September 9, 2013

Suicide-prevention week brings suicide-prevention walks in northern Kansas

We're now in the middle of National Suicide Prevention Week, and mental health organizations in northern Kansas have been busy holding walks to raise funds and awareness. In Emporia, the first annual "Out of the Darkness Walk" last Saturday, Sept. 7., raised $8,000 for local suicide-prevention programs, and had a turnout of over 200.

Walkers show their support for suicide prevention at Emporia's Soden's Grove Park Saturday. 
Source: Emporia Gazette

If you missed the walk in Emporia but still want to show your support for mental health in northern Kansas this week, you can still participate in the Shawnee County Suicide Prevention Coalition's first annual 5K run/walk this Saturday, Sept. 14., at Topeka's Hummer Sports Park. The deadline for registration is Sunday, and all proceeds from the walk will go toward suicide-awareness programs throughout Shawnee County.