Former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Anthony Davis says he fancied himself a tough guy. So when he started exhibiting signs of odd behavior, like never opening the curtains in his house or always driving his convertible with the top down, he ignored them.
It was only after he went to jail for drunk driving, his wife left him and he lost his business that he understood he was in denial.
Eventually he was diagnosed with clinical depression.
“Although I said I’m tough and I’m this and I’m that, all I was doing was saying that I need help,” Davis told several dozen mental health professionals at a gathering Wednesday in Kansas City.
Experts say one in four Americans will experience a mental health disorder this year. And key to dealing with such a disorder, they say, is to have candid and robust conversations about it.
May is Mental Health Month, and that’s the message mental health professionals in Kansas City are trying to get out: that it’s just as important to have conversations about mental health as it is about physical disorders like cancer and heart disease.
The experts who gathered at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center on Wednesday encouraged Kansas Citians to get in on the conversation.
“Mental illness is real, it’s common, it’s treatable,” Don Goldman, executive director and CEO of Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City, said at the gathering. “And the most important thing is our theme for the month: ‘It’s OK to talk about it.’”
The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City has reckoned the economic toll exacted by untreated illness in the metropolitan area is $624 million. It estimates that one in 10 adults in the area has a serious mental illness and that 40 percent of those cases go untreated.
“If you feel a cold or fever coming on, even if you’ve just been diagnosed with heart disease, chances are pretty good you’d feel comfortable telling a spouse or a colleague,” said Marsha Morgan, chief operating officer of Truman Behavioral Health and president of the Metropolitan Council of Community Mental Health Centers.
“But not everyone is comfortable talking about the emotional distress they’re having, or about how they’ve been feeling depressed or anxious.”
Wednesday’s event was designed to encourage people – particularly young people – to talk about mental health issues, whether at home, work or play.
Kansas City is one of several cities taking part in a project called Text Talk Act, a text messaging initiative designed to encourage young people to talk about mental health.
The goal is to get 15,000 young people across the country to engage in such conversations on Thursday.
“How do we change the climate of mental health?” asked Theresa Reyes-Cummings of the Jackson County Mental Health Fund. “How do we engage more young people in their mental health care and changing our systems?”
“This is one way to do it,” she said, noting that more than 65 percent of survey respondents reported higher levels of comfort talking about mental health after taking part.
Editor’s note: The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City provides funding for Heartland Health Monitor.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.