Mental health funding cuts increase wait for treatment

KANSAS CITY, Ks. - Atchison police said the man who killed himself after shooting police Sgt. David Enzbrenner was 25-year-old Skylar Barbee.

Barbee's aunt told NBC Action News that he had been treated for mental illness.

That focuses new attention on cutbacks in funding for treatment.

Experts emphasize that having mental illness doesn't lead to violence on a regular basis, but there has been concern across the state about the impact of big funding cuts.

Barbee's family said he spent time earlier this year at the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan.

Due to funding cuts and other problems, Rainbow is now open only for 72 hour crisis situations with only eight beds.

It used to have 50 beds.

It's symbolic of cuts to mental health treatment statewide.

"It may mean longer waits between their medication visits, it may mean a longer time before you get an appointment to see a therapist," said Pete Zevenbergen, the CEO of Wyandot, Inc.

Wyandot, Inc is a non-profit community mental health agency.

Its funding from a state grant has dropped 73 percent in the past five years
The chief executive said when people don't get treatment, bad things can happen.

"You've had more violence as a result, maybe homicidal behavior, maybe suicidal behavior," said Zevenbergen.

Despite what happened in Atchison, it's difficult to draw a direct line between a specific case of mental illness, and specific crimes.

But overall, experts see a link.

The Wyandotte County sheriff says 35-40 percent of his jail's inmates take medication for mental illnesses.

He says that number would increase if you count those with drug and alcohol addictions.

Zevenbergen said, "The reality is more of those people end up in jail, more of those people end up in state hospitals, in much more expensive care."

Zevenbergen agrees with the sheriff, who said there are many people in jail who would be better served in a mental health facility instead.

Wyandot, Inc said the current wait is two to three weeks for a mental health counseling appointment.

People without insurance usually meet with a supervised student, rather than a full-fledged therapist.

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