The history of mental health may keep the stigma associated with the diagnosis alive today.


Sanatoriums or institutions, treatments and the way people speak about mental health has changed since the Middle Ages.


Talking about the effects of mental illness, explains George Shoemaker, is the only way to continue to erase the stigma.


Shoemaker is the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southeast Kansas Board and chairman of the NAMI Kansas Veterans and the Military Council.


Historically, he said, people were put away out of the public’s view if they were deemed “not right.”


Shoemaker and Crawford County Mental Health Clinical Director Amy Glines said there are many myths stemming from the past which cause people to not seek help.


Glines said people are scared of being placed in an institution. She said a majority of people are placed in outpatient care, where they can be surrounded by family and friends during their time of need.


It has been proven mental illness is a physical illness, one which should be talked about the same as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, Shoemaker said


“There’s a disjoint chemical imbalance in the brain,” he said. “They haven’t found the answers yet, but they are looking for it.”


Depression symptoms, for example, may be caused by a lack of vitamins, Glines said. She encourages people to visit their regular physician to receive a check up to clear up any of these concerns.  


Some people will avoid recognizing they have a mental health issue for fear people would think less of them, Shoemaker said.


Barb Mares, chairman of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Greater Kansas Chapter, agrees with Shoemaker.


“It’s sad that it is such a stigma, it’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “But, it’s treatable.”


Mares said mental health and suicide prevention education is key to saving lives.


Shoemaker said educating people at a young age may help people receive the treatment they need earlier.


In the past, NAMI presented in front of high school students on mental health.


“Making the kids aware of mental illness and not be afraid to talk about it could help overcome the stigma of mental health,” Shoemaker said.


Along with providing education, CCMH Director of Mental Health Michael Ehling said when approaching a person who appears to be struggling, individuals need to be straightforward and ask if they are having thoughts of suicide. If so, the individual needs to steer the person in the direction of help.


He said “popping the unspoken question” will not instill the idea to take their life, rather it let the person know someone noticed their pain.

Ehling said when someone dies of suicide, the verbiage used is often masking the true cause of death.


Ehling believes it would be better to recognize the cause — taking the route of truthfulness –– may have better outcomes for families and friends left behind.


Shoemaker said NAMI has advocates speaking to legislators, in order to bring the issues to the forefront of discussion.


ASFP advocates also make their presence known in Washington D.C. to ask for funding, policies on reporting and other related matters, Mares said.

“They don’t really fund much, states are cutting it and it’s a major health issue,” Mares said. “It’s sad that it takes a celebrity to take it to the social media forefront when, besides those two celebrities 865 other people died that week by suicide.”

Money is an issue, Shoemaker said, when it comes to someone needing intensive care.


He said psychiatric treatment centers, such as Osawatomie State Hospital, are lacking the funds and staff to serve the individuals in need, causing them to be released early and cycling back into the system because of inadequate treatment.


Insurance is another mental health issue. Shoemaker said people with mental health receive 25 percent less coverage than someone who is “physically ill and incapacitated.”


“We need to change the system,” he said. “I think it’s part of the stigma.


“It shouldn’t matter if you are mentally or if you’ve got a broken arm.”


Shoemaker said mental health services have come a long way since the Middle Ages, but there’s more work to be done.


About NAMI

National Alliance on Mental Illness is a “national grass root organization developed two support advocate and educate on mental health issues,” NAMI SEK Board President George Shoemaker said.


NAMI hosts confidential local peer support groups which people suffering from mental illness or family and friends of people who do.


NAMI provides educational materials from National NAMI and Crawford County Mental Health Center.

NAMI Southeast Kansas family support group meets at 6:30 p.m. every second Monday at Pittsburg Presbyterian Church, 520 N. Pine.


There is a group available at 5 p.m. every second Thursday at Labette Center for Mental Health in Parsons.


People may learn more about NAMI by visiting the group’s Facebook page at NAMI Southeast Kansas.

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.