About one in four people experience some type of mental health disorder in a given year, and one in 17 people live with a potentially serious disorder, such as major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

It's a sobering statistic, and Richard D. Cagan, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Kansas, is concerned about the continuing stigma against mental illness and the barriers to accessing care.

"Mental illness is just terribly pervasive," Cagan said. "It's a subject that a lot of people don't want to talk about. What's important to NAMI is to normalize talking about mental illness like we do any other medical condition."

NAMI is an organization dedicated to support, education and advocacy, seeking a higher quality of life for people with disorders and their families. The organization is drawing attention to mental illness awareness week, Oct. 6-12.

"The intention is to call attention to those persons who do struggle with mental illness and how they seek to live normal lives like everyone else," said LaMar Bender, president of NAMI Mid-Kansas, which serves the Newton area.

Cagan said there are effective treatments for mental illness, but the treatments are complex and must be targeted to the individual. About 60 percent of adults with serious mental illness are not receiving treatment, and the cost of untreated mental illness in Kansas is about $1.17 billion per year.

"This is fundamentally affecting families, communities," Cagan said. "... This is the cost to Harvey County, this is the cost to Kansas. ... You can choose not to talk about it, but it's not going to go away."

He said without treatment, those with mental illness can be trapped in a cycle of homelessness or poor quality of life, and may end up in the prison system. Funding cuts also have reduced services at a time when the demand for services is increasing.

He encourages community members to be advocates for those who live with mental illness. If you'd like to learn more about the mission of NAMI, the public is invited to attend a NAMI Mid-Kansas meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at First Mennonite Church, 429 E. First St. in Newton (enter through the south door by the playground, then upstairs to room 224). Rep. Marc Rhoades, recipient of the 2009 Mental Health Legislator of the Year Award, will provide a history of Kansas mental health funding over the last decade. A question and answer period will follow the presentation.

To learn more about how to support NAMI or to join one of the organization's support groups, visit the state website at www.namikansas.org, or call Bender at (620) 327-3014. The Newton group usually meets monthly on third Thursday evenings.