Mental Health


Issues related to mental health were first identified during a Listening Process organized by Justice Matters that included a series of 108 house meetings in October, 2014. Sitting around kitchen and dining room tables or in their house of worship, over 1,200 people shared their concerns and ideas about our city. Regarding mental health, community members shared comments like:

  • "I worry about mental health issues in our community. A friend of mine died from bi-polar a month ago."
  • "I worry about my wife with mental illness."
  • "I worry about my step-niece who is 25 years old and is trying drugs. I fear she suffers from mental illness and is turning to drugs to cope."
  • "My grand daughter has anxiety attacks. My family members suffer from depression."
  • "I often worry about my nephew and my friend who both have severe mental illness and can't get enough treatment through Medicaid."
  • "My friend committed suicide after suffering from postpartum depression. I can't help but think we could have done more to prevent her death."


At an assembly of 450 key leaders on November 10, 2014, Justice Matters confirmed mental health as a priority. Bill Wood, a member of Morning Star Church, provided a testimony that night to encourage the organization in this direction. He declared that mental illness is a disease not unlike cancer. He also described his personal journey helping his daughter who suffers from mental illness, before concluding, "Now our city prepares to expand our jail to treat the mentally ill. We can do better than this." Justice Matters also voted that evening to make children and affordable housing priorities for the organization.

Leadership & Research Sources

Next, a Mental Health Working Group was formed with Rev. John McDermott (Morning Star Church) and Rev. Kathy Williams (First United Methodist Church) serving as Co-Chairs. The Mental Health Working Group have sent research delegations to meet with:

  • Pat Roach Smith (Chief Operating Officer of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center)
  • Linda Gall (Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Mental Health Director)
  • Marcia Epstein (Suicide Prevention Director)
  • Julie Heatwole (Mental Health School Professional at Quail Run Elementary)
  • Amber Rhoden (Lawrence city Police Officer and Crisis Intervention Training coordinator)
  • Rick Cagan (KS State Director, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill)
  • Benet Magnusson (Lawyer/KS Appleseed)
  • Julie Solomon (Chief Strategic Management Officer, Wyandot Inc.)
  • Leon Evans (CEO, Center for Health Care Services, Bexar County, Texas)
  • Dr. Margaret Severson (Professor, School of Social Welfare, University of Kansas)
  • Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman
  • Douglas County Commissioner Jim Flory
  • Douglas County Sheriff Ted McGovern

The Mental Health Working Group has also acquired and reviewed relevant studies/documents including:

The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City Mental Health Calculator 

(See Douglas County estimates)

Defined Problem

The Justice Matters Working Group is now researching viable solutions in Douglas County to the misplacement of the mentally ill in non-therapeutic and financially wasteful places of last resort (jails, emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and suicide), with special attention paid to the incarceration of the mentally ill.  

Watch video on the mental health system in Lawrence.  

The Working Group has defined that an estimated 19,275 serious mental illness diagnosis (major depression, severe anxiety, bi-polar disorder, and schizophrenia) are present in Douglas County each year. Our local systems are ill equipped and lack the required collaboration to provide adequate treatment for those suffering from severe mental illness. As a result, the promise of recovery for people with mental disorders is often out of reach. Instead, they often: languish in jail, tie up emergency rooms, courts, and the police, and crowd our homeless shelter and state mental hospitals. These failures are inhumane and costly.

The Working Group have invited a delegation of key stakeholders from our region to visit a nationally recognized integrated service model developed in Bexar County, Texas (San Antonio) on April 8-10, 2015. This system is engineered with the focus of diverting the non-violent mentally ill and chronic substance abusers from incarceration into treatment and recovery.

We received commitments to join our fact-finding delegation to San Antonio from Lawrence Memorial Hospital CEO Gene Meyer, Bert Nash CEO David Johnson, Lawrence Community Shelter Director Brian Blevins, County Commissioners Gaughan and Thellman, County Administrator Craig Weinaug, Douglas County Police Captain Eric Spurling, Vice Mayor Jeremy Farmer, Municipal Court Judge Scott Miller, and District Attorney Charles Branson.

We are still awaiting responses to our invitation from Emergency Department Director Patricia Doncouse, Blue Cross Blue Shield Kansas CEO Andrew Corbin, and the Honorable Judge Sally Pokorny

Regrettably, the following are unable to join the delegation: County Commissioner Jim Flory, Lawrence City Mayor Mike Amyx, and Douglas County Sherriff Ken McGovern.

The Bexar County staff have promised a full picture of their integrated system including briefings from corrections, law enforcement, courts, mental health, and homeless services. Also, a primary architect, Leon Evans, has agreed to host our delegation for a Q & A to discuss how our current situation relates to their experience.

We hope the opportunity to learn from the experience in Bexar County together as a group will create technical understanding, but – most importantly – the collaborative spirit to tackle these critical issues at home.

On May 7, 2015 Justice Matters intends to propose a focused, system-wide improvement related to mental health in the city of Lawrence during our Nehemiah Action Assembly at the Lied Center.

For more information see the documents compiled from our Solutions Briefing on April 14th on this link: MENTAL HEALTH BRIEFING