OLATHE, KS (KCTV) -- KCTV5 News is taking an in-depth look at mental health and the struggles families face to get their kids help.
Often families are put on long wait lists to get into treatment facilities because demand is so high.
One Olathe family says even in their daughter’s darkest time, there simply weren’t enough beds.
According the National Institute of Mental Health it’s recommended there be 40 psychiatric in-patient beds for every 100,000 people. In Kansas there are just 15.5 beds. In Missouri, there are even less at 14.4 beds.
The Lengquist family knows the problem all too well. They found to get their daughter, Emma, into treatment facilities for years. Each time was met with either denials, long drives, short stays, week-long waits or combinations of each.
Emma Lengquist was around 18 years old when she began having suicidal thoughts and attempts at taking her own life. Her struggles with behavior health existed for much of her teenage years. Her parents, Chris and Marie, told KCTV5 they adopted Emma and her brother when they were 4 years old.
“Emma made me a better person, and better father,” Chris said.
The Lengquists adopted Emma knowing she was living with Cerebral Palsy. It didn’t scare them away. They said she had an infectious smile and a personality that could melt hearts.
“Her dream, one day, was to marry a man who had a huge farm so she could have 100 dogs. I said ‘well who’s the man?’ She said ‘It doesn’t matter,’” Chris said as he laughed.
You see her personality bright as day in a promotional video for Inclusion Connections, an Olathe organization that helps acclimate children, teens, and young adults living with disabilities into the real world.
In the video Emma said, “I can sing, I can dance. “I can do a lot of things and the most important thing is ... I can put a smile on someone’s face when they’re down.”
The Lengquists said, sadly, her smile began to fade.
“Behavioral health ... you can’t really see it,” said Chris.
They didn’t know years down the road it wouldn’t be Emma’s cerebral palsy that would have her fighting to survive ... it would be her borderline personality disorder. Chris said it stemmed from childhood trauma.
Despite multiple suicide attempts starting around age 18, the complexity of her diagnosis, coupled with the lack of beds in treatment facilities, made it hard for the Lengquists to find a facility that would admit Emma when she needed it. The family told KCTV5 they were denied left and right.
“0ne, two, three, four – I think five locally and we were reaching out all across the nation ... Miami, Florida, Tempe, Phoenix, California,” they explained.
When Emma did get into a facility in Topeka, the family said it was hard to keep her there. “The last hospitalization ... I got the call that Monday morning saying we’re releasing her at noon. I begged them not to, saying ‘She can’t come home she’s not ready.’ She was over 18. They said, ‘She wants to come home we can’t keep her.’ That was four days before,” Marie told KCTV5.
Just four days after being released Marie stopped by Emma’s apartment to give her her medications. She walked into her worst nightmare.
“Knowing that it can happen and seeing it happen are two [different things]. It’s having the very breath sucked out of you. I just remember her hands and her lips…grabbing her dog and going outside and calling 911. And even then it didn’t hit me until the paramedics came out and said ‘There’s nothing we can do,’” Marie said in tears.
The Lengquists explained they believe the lack of funding for mental health and space to properly treat patients cost Emma her life. While mental illnesses are hidden the consequences are seen clear as day. Emma’s grave sits in a cemetery not far from the Lengquists house. Once a week, Chris visits her.
“I just like to come out and fix the toy dog that we keep on her grave. We rotate the dogs every once in a while ... check on the flowers…and remember the good times because there sure were a lot of good times,” Chris said.
On Emma’s grave, you see the words she lived by. It reads “A few glitches, and a lot of smiles.”
In the Inclusion Connections promotional video you hear Emma explain, “We’re actually like normal people, you know, we just have one or two glitches but that doesn’t mean we’re different than anyone else.”
The Lengquists told KCTV5 they think of their daughter everyday. Their home is filled with pictures of her.
“Her smile – she had the most amazing smile,” Marie said.
”It’s almost like the memories are frozen in time,” said Chris.
They said, however, the current state of help and treatment for mental health problems, cannot stay frozen.
Other families are in desperate need of help.
“They’re not alone. They are not the only ones walking through this hell of mental illness,” Marie said.
The Lengquists are calling on lawmakers to make mental health funding and treatment a priority.
“You’re three-and-a-half more times likely ... if you have a severe mental health diagnosis ... to end up in a Kansas prison than proper mental health care. Three-and-a-half more times likely. Is it any wonder that most of our prisons are privatized?” Chris said with frustration.
“It’s everybody's problem…everybody’s. When you have incidents of shootings and bad behavior its costing society,” he continued.
They parents hope their efforts to raise awareness in Emma's name will save a life and help others see the need for help in treating a disease that can’t be seen.
“She’s going to be a picture on the wall. She’s always 20…and there's a story behind it..and it’s just sad,” Marie said.
“I feel blessed and grateful that for 15 years, I got to be her dad ... she was a really special kid,” Chris added.
On Oct. 25, KCTV5’s Joe Chiodo sits down with Gov. Laura Kelly for a one-on-one interview about what what she’s doing to fix the problem. He also talked with doctors at the facility where Emma received her final treatment.
Hear if they believe they have enough space and money to meet patients needs. Join us at 10 p.m. for that part of this story.