The Columbia Public School District recently admitted six severely mentally ill kindergartners, one of whom has already tried to take his own life five times, said Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent for student support services.
“The mental health services have dwindled drastically, and there are not only children dealing with depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder, but now we have children dealing with eating disorders and substance abuse,” Barnett said. “These are issues with all children; there is not one particular demographic, and we don’t have the funds or services to help with these problems.”
Barnett, Juvenile Justice Center superintendent Kirk Kipley and St. Francis House Director Lana Jacobs agreed at a Boone County Mental Health Board of Trustees public forum Monday that the need for mental health services in Boone County is increasing while funding remains the same.
“The system is so broken that I’m not sure we can fix it, but we have to make an attempt to fix it,” Jacobs said.
Board members have been talking about putting a mental health services tax on the ballot for the past 12 years, and they hope to take what they learned from the forum to start promoting education and change within the community.
Panelists and community members discussed the problems in mental health services that have been the board’s focus since it performed a needs assessment in February 2004. The assessment showed where the gaps in mental health services were occurring in Boone County. “The ballot tax is still premature at this point, but we’re going to re-evaluate now that the forum is over,” said Michele Kennett, who is president of the board. “But there’s no plan at this point for the tax.”
Barnett, Kipley and Jacobs were among the forum’s four panelists who were asked to share their firsthand experiences dealing with the county’s mental health needs. Panel members made it clear that it will take more money to provide the mental health services needed in Boone County.
Jacobs said 90 percent of the peopleat St. Francis House are chronically schizophrenic.
“I see mental health care getting worse because there are more people that need help and there’s not enough room,” Jacobs said. “It takes lots of time and funds to care for them and most people in the community don’t realize how much goes into the care.”
Kennett said she hopes to get conversations started within the community about solutions.