At the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center on Thursday afternoon, Eyvette Carter struggled to carry on a basic conversation with her husband, Warren.
She was distracted in no small part by Karl Chaney whispering in her ear.
“Don’t trust him. Is he looking at you? Why would he want to talk to you?” Chaney said.
The group was taking part in an auditory hallucination simulation, designed to demonstrate the experience of a psychotic episode.
Kansas City’s first-ever Mental Health First Aid day offered teachers, social workers, faith leaders and others a day of free classes to learn about mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
“We want people to talk openly about their mental health. We hope that, by doing that, when folks are more comfortable talking about it and bringing it to the attention of their friends and families, that we can get people into treatment earlier,” said Mark Wiebe, public affairs director of Wyandot Inc., parent company of a group of organizations that includes a community mental health center.
All of the courses were filled to capacity at the sessions, which were held at six sites attended by more than 250 people, according to the Metropolitan Council of Community Mental Health Centers, the event's organizer.
The two eight-hour programs offered separate training on adult and youth mental health.
Larry Lee said his work as a math tutor and youth mentor motivated him to attend the sessions focusing on youth mental health issues.
“Sometimes you run across situations where, I don’t know why this student’s not catching on. There’s got to be something more going on,” Lee said.
The event included classes on identifying symptoms of mental illness and coping with emergencies.
Wiebe believes much of the interest in mental health training resulted from the high-profile shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.
“That, for better or worse, sparked a conversation about mental health nationally. It’s been on the radar, and it’s been sustained on the radar ever since then,” he said.
He noted, however, that the sessions were not intended as “violence prevention” measures. He said the vast majority of people with mental illness don't commit acts of violence and are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
The Healthcare Foundation of Greater Kansas City funded sessions in Clay and Jackson Counties in Missouri, as well as Johnson and Wyandotte Counties in Kansas. Additional funding for the Jackson County sessions came from the Jackson County Community Mental Health Fund
Wiebe said another mental health first-aid day is planned for later this year although a date has not yet been set.