Capitol Update: Rep. Susan Ruiz says state must do more to address mental health

Rep. Susan Ruiz. File photo.

Each week during the 2022 Kansas legislative session, we will provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol.

Below is this week’s submission from Democratic Rep. Susan Ruiz of Kansas House District 23, which covers parts of Lenexa, Overland Park and Shawnee. 

Democratic Rep. Heather Meyer and Republican Sen. Mike Thompson were also given opportunities this week to submit columns. 

The views expressed in each Capitol Update are solely those of the lawmaker and are not reflective of the Post’s position on any matter discussed. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. and has been recognized as such since 1949. The purpose of the recognition is to bring awareness to the fact that we all have mental health just like physical health.

Bringing this awareness will hopefully get rid of the stigma often associated with mental health conditions. Stigma prevents individuals from seeking services early on in life and keeps families from seeking services for their children.

There are many factors that can contribute to developing a mental health condition.

Research in the area of mental health points to what are called risk factors. According to the nonprofit Mental Health America, “The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop a mental health condition in your lifetime. Mental health conditions can develop slowly, or symptoms can start to appear more suddenly after you’ve experienced a stressful event or big change.”

Some of the risk factors include:

  • social determinants of Health, including the stability of one’s income, access to quality education, access to health care, positive living environment and community),
  • trauma
  • and substance use.

The good news is early intervention and access to services lead to being able to increase the ability to manage the symptoms and not being driven by them.

Mental health has been the focus of many discussions since the start of the pandemic. It has resulted in increased need for outpatient services and hospitalizations due to thoughts or attempts of suicide. The use of substances increased due to social isolation and employment issues. All of this has led to a national focus on the need for enhanced mental health services.

Additionally, the pandemic uncovered a serious workforce shortage in mental health and addictions across the country. Kansas is addressing the need for enhanced mental health services.

The KS Mental Health Modernization and Reform Special Committee was formed in 2020. They developed a plan to modernize the state’s behavioral health system.

In 2021, the committee recommended and the governor signed a bill establishing a new model of providing community mental health services. The 26 Kansas community mental health centers will incrementally switch to becoming Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. The new model will increase access to services have, greater integration with physical health and use evidence-based practices.

Starting this July, Kansans will have a new 988 mental health crisis hotline. The federal government mandated the establishment of a 988 hotline in every state.

The Legislature passed House Substitute for SB 19 in late April. One of the hurdles to making this happen was the funding component. The state will initially fund the hotline, but the Legislature must put in place a more consistent funding stream.

There is still much to be accomplished. Many have voiced their frustration regarding the slow process of funding other programs, especially intellectual and developmental disabilities services.

We also need more statewide access to early childhood programs and education. Early childhood programs and education will lessen the impact of risk factors on a child’s early development and into adulthood.