Mass shootings raise concerns about Kansas mental health system

A photo from the original blog post leading to the viral 'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother,' a mom's perspective on the mental illness conversation in America.

A photo from the original blog post leading to the viral 'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother,' a mom's perspective on the mental illness conversation in America. by Phil Cauthon

Like many Kansans, Rick Cagan spent much of last weekend reading and listening to news reports about the gunman who killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Cagan had a professional reason for learning what he could about the tragedy. He runs the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Kansas Chapter office in Topeka.

“It’s devastating,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

According to initial news reports, the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, may have suffered from a personality disorder or had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, a form of autism. However, there is no indication that he had the kind of severe mental illness suffered by others responsible for mass shootings.

Jared Loughner, the man convicted of shooting former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killing six others, for instance, suffered from schizophrenia, a mental illness that causes disordered thinking and delusions.

And James Holmes, the man accused of shooting 12 people to death and wounding 58 others last summer at a movie theater in a Denver sought mental health treatment before the attack, according to multiple news reports.

Mass shootings nearly always rekindle debates about gun control and the adequacy of the nation’s mental health system. Commenting on the later, Cagan said many Kansans with mental illness are not getting the early treatment they need to avoid crises.

“More than 60 percent of the adults who have a serious mental illness are untreated,” he said, noting that in Kansas half the admissions to the state hospitals for the mentally ill involve people who’ve had no previous contact with their community’s mental health center.

In Kansas, state-hospital admissions are reserved for adults who are seriously mentally ill and have been deemed a danger to themselves or others.

“NAMI is always reluctant to jump in with some sort of comment when these kinds of incidents occur because there’s so much that we don’t know,” Cagan said, referring to the shootings. “But, still, blaming the individual only goes so far. At some point, we have to look at the overall well-being of our mental health system.”

Budget cuts in the mental health system

Kansas’ system, he said, hasn’t fared well in recent years.

“I don’t like saying this,” Cagan said, “but we’re just lucky this didn’t happen in Kansas.”

Continue reading this story — and find a link to the blog post, 'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother' — on

Tagged: community, children, centers, schools, mental, connecticut, massacre, kansas, newtown, shooting, health, mass


storm 5 years, 10 months ago

I hope people continue to seek treatment for mental conditions in spite of pontification blogs like "I am Adam Lanza's Mother". That blog lets Dads off the hook and even pretends to know if other murderers were mentally ill. Thank goodness most mass shootings are not caused by mentally ill people. Evil exists. Period.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 10 months ago

"Thank goodness most mass shootings are not caused by mentally ill people."

Do you have a credible source for that statement? Incredible claims require multiple impeccable sources.

"Evil exists. Period."

That is a statement of religious belief that is fortunately not shared in a literal way by very many. To think that a perfectly sane person would suddenly be possessed by the Devil himself and then go out and start shooting people sounds incredible to me.

But, I wasn't there when the Devil enticed Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, so I suppose I'm not really an expert.

storm 5 years, 10 months ago

There isn't a D in front of the word, evil.

William Weissbeck 5 years, 10 months ago

A few points. The recent shootings are not necessarily the result of evil. We too often (if we are the least bit religious) ignore the fact that death exists and will happen. If a bale of hay rolls down a hill and kills someone (true story about a former member of ELO), was the bale of hay evil? We can battle evil. We can decide how we want to live and relate to others in a world in which death is a reality. Again, this is earth, not heaven. Our mental health is a joke. Growing up in Topeka in the 60's and 70's, we had Menningers, the VA and Topeka State Hospital. With Menningers in the mix, we had a much higher quality of providers at the other institutions (including KNI). This was a respected field of real science. Now we pretend it's not needed, should be hidden somewhere in someone else's community, and the general tax payer need not be bothered with it's funding.

John Hampton 5 years, 10 months ago

I think some of you are getting caught up in semantics.

Evil Bad Not Good Very Bad Not possessed of good feelings toward society.

Pick your poison, synonym, what ever.

Some people are just bad people. Some good people get so jaded they end up bad, evil, not possessed of good feeling toward society, etc....

Centerville 5 years, 10 months ago

The general tax payer was assured and assured again that if he'd just pay out more of his own hardearned money then Community Mental Health Centers would spring up all across the land to take care of the people who needed to have their civil rights restored by being returned to their families. These Centers and their taxpayer subsidies have grown by leaps and bounds but their mission of helping the deinstitutionalized has slipped to their C-lists. As has been noted, "It's more pleasant to listen to a doctor's wife complain that her husband doesn't listen to her than to go out and try to talk a homeless schizophrenic into taking his medications."

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