Addressing mental health stigma with RESPECT

We all want to be treated with dignity, including those who have ongoing mental health issues.

This truth led Joel Slack, mental health advocate, to found the RESPECT Institute, which trains individuals with mental health illnesses to share their personal stories of recovery with public audiences. The goal is to foster a better public understanding and remove stigma of mental health challenges, including substance use.

The RESPECT Institute started in Kansas City in 2010 with Trena Fowler, Rehabilitation Director at the Center for Behavioral Medicine; Kellie Sullivan, Director of Crossroads Group Home; and Ruthe Workcuff, Case Manager at Swope as the facilitators. Ruthe continues to work as a facilitator training program participants; Trena & Kellie are now advisors.

RESPECT Institute speakers provide inspiration and hope. They knock down the stigma behind mental illness with each group they present to.

“These speakers are willing to share their stories to help others who may encounter similar obstacles,” said Mark Miller, Executive Vice President of Behavioral Health at Swope Health. “Swope Health is proud to support the RESPECT Institute.”

Ruthe has been an associate with Swope Health for more than 30 years. She has been featured in various magazines (including the September issue of Our Health Matters) and been on numerous panels.  What she does the best is make care visible.

RESPECT speakers are available to present to large and small groups — high school classrooms, civic organizations, church groups, hospital groups, auxiliaries, law enforcement and emergency personnel, mental health professionals and advocacy groups. If you would like to become a speaker or have a speaker to come to your organization to share their story, please contact Ruthe Workcuff at or 816-599-5291.


An example of a RESPECT speaker and her story:

Ms. Adrian grew up in poverty in Chicago, Illinois. She had an alcoholic mother and a heroin addict father. It was so bad she ran away from home when she was 13 years old. Being out on the streets led her to trouble with the law and going to prison several times. Adrian didn’t realize that she had a mental health issue. At her last prison stay in Iowa, she got help with anger management and learned tips on re-entering the population. She got tired of going in and out of prison. Adrian learned that she could not mix street drugs with her mental health prescriptions, and that she needs to stay on her mental health meds. She has now been clean and sober for 22 years. She is planning to leave Kansas City to go to Texas where she has a son in prison. Adrian plans to volunteer at the Salvation Army to work with homeless women and share her story to help others.

The Suicide Lifeline is now 988

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is changing to a simpler, shorter number – 988. Starting on July 16, 2022, to reach the hotline you will be able to call 988 instead of 1-800-273-8255.

The new three-digit code works in the same way that 911 works for an emergency hotline, reaching local resources wherever you are in the country.

“We’ve been working with partners across the state to prepare for this since it was approved in 2020,” said Mark Miller, executive vice president of Behavioral Health at Swope Health. The Missouri Mental Health network of providers, law enforcement and a wide variety of other agencies have been preparing for and have created a strong partnership to implement the new 988 system.

“This program will strengthen and transform crisis care in the United States,” Miller said. “This easy-to-remember number is going to save lives.”

When you dial 988, you will be connected with a crisis counselor trained to provide care and support for anyone experiencing mental-health related distress.  Organized by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the program can assist with thoughts of suicide, substance use crisis, trauma or other emotional distress.

The National Suicide hotline was launched in 2005 and later expanded to include Spanish language support, text messages and a chat function, receives 3.3 million calls. There are around 200 local and independently owned crisis centers that support the network.

You can call, text or chat to the 988 code. The number is available to anyone, including people who may be worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

The 988 lifeline is free and confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The service is available in Spanish and includes translation support for 150 languages.

“We know there’s a tremendous need for crisis support,” Miller said. “In the US, there’s one death by suicide about every 11 minutes. There’s so much pain and trauma, and we know the pandemic has only made it worse.”

According to federal research, suicide is a leading cause of death for those age 10-34. Research shows that suicide hotlines save lives and can contribute to reducing the estimated $34 billion in annual medical and work-loss costs of suicide in the U.S.

The Healing Powers of Art

The young man appeared a reluctant participant in the Swope Health arts program, led by Carolyn Graves, artist and Community Support Specialist, in the Adult Community Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program.

The art program is a way to teach coping skills to individuals overcoming substance use or other behavioral health issues. Most of the other day program participants were chatty and engaged, especially as Carolyn continually challenged her class to try new techniques of artistic expression.

But throughout four-day-a week Zoom classes, this young man stayed silent as he worked, answering with a nod or shrug only. After speaking with the young man’s mother and Community Support Specialist, Carolyn understood that the silence was a behavior of his choosing, not caused by a physical limitation.

When the art program resumed in-person sessions, the young man came to class but remained silent.

Until one day: while Carolyn was intently explaining a technique known as Aboriginal dot painting, he turned to her and said, “I got it.”

Carolyn considered it a breakthrough – and one more example of the healing influence of art.

“Art is a great coping skill,” Carolyn said. “It literally diverts your attention from yourself to focus on something bigger. Art has a fundamental power of expression.”

The art program offers a safe space for participants to learn new skills – whether drawing, creating with papier-mâché, coloring or painting – while sharing time and experiences with others. The class is set up for no more than 16, to allow Carolyn plenty of time with each participant. There are no demands on the participants, other than engaging their own creativity.

Carolyn Graves demonstrates how to use newspaper in the first step of creating a papier-mâché heart decoration.


Carolyn shows a finished wall hanging of her own design.

Carolyn noted her silent student has begun becoming more expressive, while also taking greater pride in his work. “Best in class,” she says.

His mother is delighted at the progress. She said he has indicated an interest in visiting museums and she is starting to imagine him working, perhaps in a framing studio.

“He has come so far,” she said. “I’m amazed and so grateful for this program.”


If you’d like to support the art therapy program, visit the Swope Health Amazon Smile Wish List page to donate supplies. 

Swope Health celebrates a Mental Health Champion

Each year, the state of Missouri’s Department of Mental Health selects three individuals to receive an award as a “Mental Health Champion.”

The award recognizes an individual living with mental illness, developmental disabilities, or in recovery for substance use disorders.  This distinguished award is presented to individuals who make a positive contribution to their community, exemplify commitment and resiliency, and whose actions have increased the potential for independence in others with similar challenges.

Swope Health is proud to announce that William Chaney, a Peer Specialist at the Imani House, is one of the 2022 winners. He received his award at a celebration May 2 in Jefferson City, MO.

The award program shared his story:

William began using alcohol and drugs early on and continued to use for several years of his life despite the hardships he experienced. In July 2009, he made the courageous decision to enter treatment.

Mr. Chaney entered Swope Health’s Imani program to learn a new approach to life, because in his words, “he was tired of being ugly.” His graduation from treatment did not mark the end of his journey, but the beginning.

After graduating, Mr. Chaney showed up every day, volunteering countless hours to help his peers, clean the building, and provide support with no compensation. He would tell staff, “You are going to hire me one day,” even though there were no job openings.

After 5 years of volunteering, he was hired as Imani’s first Peer Support Staff where he has now worked a total of 12 years and is the head of the Imani Alumni Program.

Recovery is Mr. Chaney’s passion, and he lives it every day. He displays a positive attitude, going above and beyond, and using his story and the “Truth about Drugs” curriculum to show clients and youth in the community that they can overcome any addiction and become productive members of society.

“Mr. Chaney has a big heart, but his passion for recovery is bigger.”

After receiving his award, Swope Health hosted a reception for him, too, giving colleagues a chance to celebrate with him.

Congratulations, Mr. Chaney.

Mr. Chaney, center, with members of the Imani House team, and with his family.

Swope Health Presents at 2021 Mental Health KC Conference

Swope Health’s Terri Cooley-Bennett will deliver a presentation on “Trauma and Suicide” at the 2021 Mental Health Kansas City Virtual Conference on May 6-7.

Suicide rates have increased rapidly in Missouri, as well as nationwide. This workshop examines the link between trauma and suicide. There is significant evidence that traumas in childhood (Adverse Childhood Experiences) increase the likelihood of issues later – such as clinical depression, substance-use disorders, chronic health conditions and suicide. The workshop will explore best practices and treatments and will include resources on self-care to address vicarious trauma.

The conference is sponsored by the Metro Council of Community Behavioral Health Centers. This event marks the sixth year of the conference, which is expected to draw hundreds of professionals including local business leaders, educators, first responders, government leaders, mental health professionals, healthcare workers and members of the community.

The event is held to coincide with Mental Health Awareness month in May. The goal of the awareness campaign is to reduce the stigma of mental illness and elevate mental health dialogues in the workplace.

Cooley-Bennett is the Outreach Services manager for Swope Health. She is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed specialist clinical social worker, a certified co-occurring disorders professional-diplomate, and a tobacco treatment specialist.

She is experienced as a presenter, workshop leader, and educator and served as an Adjunct Professor for the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare. Cooley-Bennett speaks and serves on the board of the Missouri Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

The Metro Council of Community Behavioral Health Centers is a collaboration of nine community behavioral health centers serving Metropolitan Kansas City. Keynote speakers will talk on Trauma and Social Justice/Racial Equality.  There is a $50 fee for the conference. Register here.


“Tools 2 Thrive” Resources
Mental Health America

While 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health. The Tools 2 Thrive series provides information, tips, and practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency.

A Second Chance – A Welcome Diversion

Recently, a small group of nine Kansas City residents got together on a virtual meeting with Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker, Rev. John Miles of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church and representatives of Swope Health.

The occasion was a celebration, marking the first graduating class to successfully complete a new counseling program. As a result of completing the program, criminal charges pending against these nine residents were dropped.

The program is called NewStart2020. It is an idea launched in November by the Jackson County Prosecutor to help offenders avoid criminal charges. In this new diversion program, up to 60 non-violent felony offenders are asked to complete 20 hours of counseling, with additional support. If they complete the program, their non-violent felony charges (such as drug possession) are dropped.

The nine participants all received certificates of completion of the program’s counseling services, provided by Swope Health and modeled on Swope Health’s Imani House drug treatment programs.

Program leaders congratulated the participants as Prosecuting Attorney Baker pronounced the charges would not appear on their records. “I’m proud of you,” she said.

“Go forward, go forward, go forward,” said Swope Health President and CEO Jeron Ravin.

“I am grateful for program, and grateful for all of you who worked so hard,” said Rev. John Miles. “Now that you’ve got a new start, move forward in a positive way.”

In the program, Swope Health delivers the services at the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church community center, which also provides case management, food and other support.

This program is similar to drug diversion, which is run through the Jackson County Drug Court. In the drug diversion process, cases are diverted after charges are filed. A judge oversees the case, and the entire process can take 12 to 18 months to complete.

The new pilot program is different in that it is a diversion before charges. Eligible participants are facing non-violent felony crimes, and will have the chance to wipe that arrest away by completing the 20-hour program. Persons charged with violent crimes, including domestic abuse or sex crimes, are not eligible.

The program leaders are now working on scheduling the next session and growing the participation, to help members of the community get a second chance.

In Stressful Times, Just Ask: Show Me Hope

These are stressful times.  COVID-19 affects everyone: Your neighbors, friends, colleagues, community, children, elder adults, family – even you.

If you need help coping, Swope Health is here for you.  We mean it when we say we’re in this together! We’ll help you learn new coping skills, provide information to keep you and your family safe, and connect you with the resources you need.

Call Swope Health’s Missouri Show Me Hope Crisis Line at 816-321-3613.  The crisis counseling program is confidential and free.

Some Quick Tips for Managing Stress during the COVID-19 Pandemic:

  • Take time away from news reports and social media to focus on things in your life that are going well and that you can control.
  • Talk to family and friends. You can still stay connected while physically distancing from others. Remember, others may also be experiencing stress about the pandemic and may find it helpful to talk about experiences and feelings.
  • Pay attention to your body. Recognize the early warning signs of stress and take time to renew your spirit through meditation, prayer, reflection or helping others in need.
  • Keep stress under control by exercising, eating healthy, reading or using relaxation techniques such as yoga.

Show Me Hope is a Crisis Counseling Program offered through the Missouri Department of Mental Health with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Additional resources:

Making behavioral health services more accessible through telepsychiatry.

TelepsychiatryAs the name suggests, telepsychiatry delivers behavioral health services across a distance through technology, usually through a computer or video conferencing system.  Swope Behavioral Health introduced this service in 2018 and patients are embracing it.

“Most of our patients are comfortable speaking with a provider on a screen,” said Dr. Nallu Reddy, Chief of Psychiatry at Swope Health. “Children are particularly open to it, since they have grown up with this technology.”

Patients come to Swope Health for their telepsychiatry session, where a nurse checks the patient in and records vital signs. The sessions occur in a private room equipped with a video camera and large television monitor.

Video Chatting

Although video chatting via Facebook Messenger, FaceTime or Skype is commonplace, telepsychiatry is still in its infancy, though it is evolving for use in many settings, such as rural healthcare facilities; in emergency rooms; nursing homes; correctional institutions; schools; hospitals and military treatment facilities.

“One day, we will have the capability of visiting patients in their homes with portable equipment for vitals and tele-sessions, but solving the logistics of individual visits is much farther in the future,” said Dr. Reddy.

Currently, Dr. Reddy and her team are concentrating on developing partnerships with area residential treatment facilities, group homes and schools. The goal is to send a Swope Health nurse to these facilities to take vitals and facilitate individual tele-sessions for multiple patients during the time he or she is on-site.

“This would be efficient for us and convenient for patients because they would not have to physically come to a Swope Health location,” said Dr. Reddy.

The American Psychiatric Association

According to the American Psychiatric Association, telepsychiatry allows for direct interaction between the psychiatrist and the patient. It can include evaluations, therapy, group or individual counseling, patient education and medication management. The technology improves access to psychiatry services, reducing transportation barriers and often, reducing delays in scheduling.

In addition, research has shown that telepsychiatry is especially effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD). Some people even prefer telepsychiatry to in-person encounters for the feelings of safety, security and privacy it offers.

At Swope Health, three psychiatrists provide tele-sessions for patients:  Dr. Reddy; Dr. Khursheed Zia, who formerly practiced at Swope Health Central but now lives in Houston; and Dr. Charles Schwartz, who resides in New York.  Dr. Reddy is poised to increase her tele-staff as demand for the service increases.

“About 10 percent of our patients are using the telepsychiatry service,” said Dr. Reddy.  “In most cases, they were seen faster than those patients who were scheduled for traditional sessions.”

Dr. Reddy and her team plan to educate Swope Health patients about telepsychiatry and increase the number who access this service for the flexibility and immediacy it provides.

Like more information? Contact Swope Health Behavioral Services at 816-922-1070 to request an appointment.

Question, Persuade and Refer: Steps to Prevent Suicide

Each year, more than 41,000 people die by suicide, leaving grief-stricken and broken-hearted family, and friends, and community members in their wake.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) designated September as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to call attention to the issue of suicide. At Swope Health, suicide prevention is a regular part of the conversation between associates and patients.

Suicidal Thoughts

“Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone at any time,” said Carla Lee, Patient Community and Education Specialist at Swope Health. “These thoughts can come to anyone, at any age, regardless of gender, social or economic status. But that doesn’t mean it’s normal.”

Suicidal thoughts are a signal indicating more serious behavioral health conditions, she said. That’s why Swope Health associates are trained in the latest proven techniques to identify issues early, encourage treatment and take steps to help prevent suicides.


QPROne technique is QPR – for Question, Persuade and Refer. The QPR Institute was established to teach this approach, which is accredited by the National Registry of Evidence-Based Practices and Policies, an agency of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The QPR Institute compares its program to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or the Heimlich Maneuver, both of which are widely taught and empower individuals to help save thousands of lives each year. People trained in QPR learn to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and perform an emergency mental health intervention.

Kevin Hines

Kevin HinesA second program at Swope Health introduced caregivers to Kevin Hines, who attempted suicide in 2000 by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Remarkably, he survived, and his story gained widespread media coverage, including stories on ABC, CNN and The Today Show. He now advocates for suicide prevention and has successfully lobbied for the installation of a net to prevent future suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hines has appeared at more than 5,000 high school and college campuses to share his talk, “Triumph over Adversity: The Kevin Hines Story.” He has written a book (Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt) and launched a non-profit organization that provides funding and education for suicide prevention. In 2019, he released a documentary, “Suicide: The Ripple Effect.”

His message is simple and consistent: “Suicide is never the solution.”

Carla agrees.

“Place your hand over your heart. Can you feel it?” she asks. “That is called purpose. You are alive for a reason, so do not ever give up. Remember, I care. Swope Health cares.”

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please contact Swope Health at 816-923-5800. Or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Crisis Resources

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • If you are uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

WhyCare?Why care? is part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness campaign to encourage support for the one in five adults who experience mental illness each year.

Stop Exploitation of Vulnerability

Russ Tuttle

Russ Tuttle, president and founder of the Stop Trafficking Project, is also the director for “Be Alert” program, which educates and empowers students and guides adults from awareness to action. He is also leading a series of programs for healthcare workers at Swope Health.

When Russ Tuttle gives a presentation on sex trafficking, he enters the room like a man on a mission. Which he is.

He talks fast, telling story after story full of pain and suffering. He rattles off statistics, illustrating his tales with images, infographics and videos. He always comes back to the pain sex trafficking produces, and how it can be stopped.

Russ, president and founder of a not-for-profit organization called the Stop Trafficking Project, works every day to spread information about the issue of sex trafficking of minors in Kansas City. He is delivering a series of programs to caregivers at Swope Health, helping caseworkers and other healthcare professionals learn about the problem and how to intervene.

Through the “Be Alert” program, Russ and his organization deliver presentations to schools, churches, law enforcement agencies, healthcare providers and community groups. He estimates 5,280 students and 3,100 adults have participated in one of the Be Alert student assemblies held between January and March 2019. He has reached more than 40,000 students since the program started in 2015.

Russ’s Be Alert program delivers messages of awareness and prevention. He believes that when students, parents, caregivers and the community are educated and empowered, there is a fighting chance of making a positive impact.

What is trafficking? “Human trafficking is always the exploitation of vulnerability,” he says. This is a phrase he repeats throughout his talk, encouraging the class to say it with him as a way of driving the point home.

How can trafficking happen? It starts with a child who feels alone, can be manipulated, lacks self-esteem, or perceives they are unattractive or different. The trafficker earns a moment of trust and then gains control of the child.  The control might be a compromising photo followed by threats of telling parents or distributing the photo at school, he said. From there, the demands escalate and the child feels trapped, self-blaming, depressed or hopeless.  The traffickers prey upon those feelings, deepening a bond with the victim.

Sex Trafficking infoDoes it happen here? Yes. Based on his surveys of area students, Russ said 26 percent are engaged in activities online that make them vulnerable to predators. Additionally, 75 percent of students surveyed have seen pornography, including some as young as age 8.  Pornography is presented as “training” to vulnerable kids, he said.

Who would exploit a child for sex trafficking? Russ said it could be a family member, boyfriend, employer, friend of the family, or a stranger. He noted the influence of social media makes it easier for children and teens to encounter traffickers who disguise themselves to earn the child’s trust. The common disguises:

  • Pretender: one who acts like a boyfriend, father figure, big sister
  • Provider: one who offers clothing, food, cool items
  • Promiser: one who talks of future gifts, travel, a new lifestyle
  • Protector: one who offers physical power or intimidation to help
  • Punisher: one who uses violence or threats to take control

Why does it happen? “There are sex sellers willing to sell kids because there are sex buyers for those kids,” Russ said, noting the problem may be larger than the numbers indicate.

“Since this is the crime hidden in plain sight, many domestic minor sex trafficking – or DMST – cases don’t show up as that officially,” Russ said. “They often become abuse cases, domestic violence, or more often than not some kind of child pornography case. Part of the reason for the porn charges is because the images are almost always shared in DMST, but also because the penalties are more strict. And it’s easier to prove in court and takes less time to investigate for law enforcement.”

United States Trafficking NumbersWhat can I do? If you suspect a child is being abused, please take action:

To learn more about the issue of sex trafficking of minors:

Visit Sex Trafficking Intervention Research Center, University of Arizona: includes resources and training materials for parents and teens