When Dr. Roy Menninger addressed a Thursday meeting of the League of Women Voters of Douglas County, he looked for something nice to say about the state approach to caring for the mentally ill.
He didn't find much.
"I'd say Kansas has a system that's a little better than average," said Menninger, a psychiatrist whose father, Dr. Will Menninger, grandfather, Dr. C.F. Menninger, and uncle, Dr. Karl Menninger, started the world-famous Menninger Clinic in Topeka in the early 1920s.
That's not much of a compliment, he said, when the nation's mental health system has degenerated to a point where limiting hospital stays trumps actual care.
Menninger went on to blast states - including Kansas - for closing many of their hospitals for the mentally ill. He called the closings "a terrible social experiment."
Kansas closed Topeka State Hospital in 1997. Since then, he said, the number of mentally ill people in prison or wandering the streets has risen dramatically.
"One-fourth of all people in prison are thought to be mentally ill," he said.
Menninger said he welcomed the modern availability of psychotropic drugs but was saddened to see how they're being used to limit stays in psychiatric units.
That's certainly the case at Osawatomie State Hospital, where, he said, true care has taken a back seat to efficiency.
Menninger also criticized the state's community mental health centers for pretending they can care for people with chronic illnesses who resist taking their medication.
He called the centers "a great idea, but premature," "grossly insufficient" and woefully underfunded.
About 30 people attended the evening forum. Many shared stories of being "drugged" while hospitalized, having trouble accessing services and, because of their illnesses, being treated like second-class citizens.
"I thought Dr. Menninger provided us with a very realistic and objective perspective on the mental health system in Kansas," said Kay Hale. "He didn't pull any punches, and he told the truth."
Hale is a member of the Douglas County League of Women Voters' board of directors. She serves on a committee that's studying the state's mental health system. The study is expected to take two years.
The Menninger Clinic closed its Topeka operations and moved to Houston in 2003.