Mental Health Day at the K aims to strikeout the stigma

Suicide is the second leading killer of Kansans ages 10 - 25, according to National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Kansas. And it says it is the third leading killer of people in the same age range in Missouri.

The organization says suicide is almost always preceded by mental illness.

Sunday at the K, more than 500 people came out to raise awareness of mental health, including Kelly Specht.

The Specht certainly know how to throw a party. Hot dogs, beer, games, and a lot of friends spilled out from their sprawling tent on Lot N.

“So today,” said Specht, “we’re here, doing a big tailgate party for my son.”

But her guest of honor couldn’t be here to enjoy it. Carl Specht took his own life last year.

“Carl was a wonderful, wonderful son,” said Specht. “He had everything going for him in the world. But he got afflicted with bipolar depression in his 20s.”

She continued, “he was 27 years old, and he lost his battle with depression last summer on June 23rd.

She looked around at the crowd, including several of his St. Thomas Aquila’s classmates.

“I look at all these young friends of his and I think ‘Carl should be here.’”

Carl’s story is more common than you’d expect. According to NAMI, roughly one-in-five Americans battles mental illness.

Ann Konz calls herself a mental health advocate. She coordinated the tent that sat next to the Specht’s. It was adorned with green ribbons -- the symbol for mental health. In it, NAMI handed out gray t-shirts.

Konz said mental health issues run the gamut.

“It can be bipolar, depression, borderline personality disorder, autism. It’s a very wide spectrum.”

So in the corner of Lot N, this stretch of tents is trying to break the stigma of that spectrum, with Mental Health Day at the K.

“It’s a whole community problem,” said Konz, “and it takes a community to come together to try to solve it. And that’s what we’re trying to do here, to get as many people involved.”

That’s important, because NAMI Kansas said half of the people in Kansas who have mental health issues don't seek treatment.

The Spechts tried to get help for their son.

“The sad part is the stigma,” said Kelly, “because Carl was so embarrassed.”

She added, “Carl was needing help, and the resources weren’t available to us.”

NAMI Kansas said 50 percent of Americans will be effected by mental illness in their lifetime.