Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, deserves credit for talking about the importance of mental health care. This week, he called for increasing behavioral health services across the state, particularly in underserved rural areas.
This makes a lot of sense. Mental health care is health care, and awareness has increased that anyone at any age can face challenges.
Ryckman is also calling to expand a mental health program in schools, which again makes sense. Schools are foundational to communities, especially in rural areas, and are well-positioned to offer easily accessible care at times of crisis.
Or as Ryckman put it: “When the right services are provided at the right time, we can hope to prevent these types of tragedies in Kansas and prevent further tragedies in our nation. We need to take a more integrated approach that pulls together resources from our community mental health centers, schools, law enforcement, hospitals, safety net clinics and physicians.”
But wait a moment.
What exactly does the speaker mean when he refers to “these types of tragedies”? Was this proposal about more than simply expanding mental health care? Is this about more than strengthening the safety net programs (or lack of the same) experienced by Kansans?
The speaker is proposing these mental health care changes as an antidote to the recent horrific incidents of gun violence that killed more than 30 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. And this strikes us as a bit peculiar.
Residents of countries around the world face mental health challenges. Yet mass shootings on the scale seen in this country are a uniquely American problem, tied directly to the easy availability and lax regulations around high-powered firearms. The overwhelming majority of people who face mental health challenges do not act out violently.
We shouldn't, however, deflect attention from the issue of firearms regulation — no doubt a difficult topic to broach in Kansas — and the toxic rhetoric used by President Trump, another challenging subject.
We would strongly encourage the speaker to examine proposals for Medicaid expansion in Kansas, which would expand insurance coverage to some 150,000 residents. It even includes mental health coverage, which could go a long way toward reimbursing providers in rural areas.
Again, we’re delighted to see that Ryckman is interested in making mental health care more available. It’s an important step.
But will Kansas legislators take additional steps to address mass shootings and violence? That seems to require a more difficult conversation.