Mental Health


Mental Health in Nebraska

by Jessica Hartzell, Megan Marron, Maddie Rawlings, Annalea Svatos, and Rhea Voss

Students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha

Introductory Sociology 1010

“Mental Health in Nebraska” is a broad title, and a topic which we have narrowed down for the benefit of our readers.  Most people do not have a lot of knowledge on mental illness or mental health care in general.  We researched what opportunities are available for the community to learn more about mental illness, how those with mental illness are able to find help, and what judicial steps are being taken to improve problems with mental health treatment in Omaha and other areas of Nebraska.

According to The Mental Health Association, there are over two-hundred unclassified forms of mental illness.  The major types of mental illness are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, dementias, and eating disorders.  Several different social, genetic, and psychological factors cause one to develop mental illness.  Nearly every individual is affected by mental illness in some way.  Many people who require help with a mental illness do not reach out for that assistance or treatment.  There are several factors that prevent someone from receiving this necessary aid.  Diverse levels of culture and society created a negative prejudice that accompanies mental illness.  This stigma associated with mental illness prevents those with real problems from getting the help they need (The Mental Health Association).  Despite cultural setbacks, schools and facilities in Nebraska offer those with mental illnesses the opportunity to get help, while Nebraska’s Criminal Justice System is working to treat inmates with mental illnesses.

After studying the history of mental health in Nebraska, it is clear that there has always been a need for an increased mental illness awareness.  Nebraskans once pleaded for better education on mental health and improved mental health facilities. Today, Nebraska offers excellent mental health education and a wide variety of facilities accessible for those who choose to utilize them.  There are also several advocates attempting to increase the awareness of mental health across Nebraska.  The state has greatly advanced and expanded its mental health education for not only Nebraskans, but for students from all over the country.  An article in The Daily Nebraskan published on Friday, May 8, 1953 suggests that Nebraska has come a long way in regards to mental health advocacy.  This article suggests that mental health education in Nebraska was nearly nonexistent.  Today, there are several opportunities for Nebraskans to learn more about mental illnesses, in and out of a classroom.

Mental Health Education

Nebraskan universities offer a variety of courses, speeches, services, and events designed to inform others about mental health.  The University of Nebraska at Omaha offers Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees in Counseling with concentrations in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.  This is the only university in Nebraska that does so, providing students who are interested in advancing their education and knowledge on the subject the ability to do so.  UNO also provides a wide variety of confidential counseling services available to any students who are interested.  Along with counseling services, there are a handful of support groups at UNO, such as Beyond Blue, which allows students who struggle with depression and anxiety to reach out to peers.  UNO also has several events throughout the year that promote mental health recognition.  These events include, but are not limited to, a Mental Health Talk conducted by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and a discussion organized by the School of Social Work held during October: Mental Health Awareness Month.

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln also supplies students and faculty with the tools to learn more about mental health.  Like UNO, UNL offers confidential Counseling and Psychological Services to all students, with an emphasis on their commitment to diversity.  On the UNL website, CAPS states,

…we are aware that UNL is a predominantly white campus, we recognize that under-represented students and international students have specific needs that must be filled so that they can be successful. The success of every student is our goal and to meet that goal we attend to racial/ethnic, gender, sexual orientation/identity, religious, and socio-economic differences. We are aware of transition issues. We are aware of cultural biases. We are also aware of racial identity issues. And more than being aware of all these issues, we seek to provide students with services that will allow them to seek the success that every student deserves (Commitment to Diversity).

This quotation demonstrates that UNL’s counselors solely strive to overcome differences in order to meet the needs of all students.  Also on their website, UNL’s students have the ability to complete an anonymous online screening.  This allows students to see if professional consultation is necessary behind the privacy of their own computer screen.  UNL also offers an Online Mental Wellness Resource Center, which provides students and their families with information and videos about common mental health issues experienced by students.

At Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska, there is a group of students who wish to inform about mental health issues and mental illnesses.  These students created a public walk called “Step Against Stigma” to do so.  Wayne State College also provides students with the opportunity to get their degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.  Like UNO and UNL, they offer counseling services and online support information on topics like suicide, stress, and anxiety.  Colleges and Universities in Nebraska offer countless opportunities for students to get help with, get involved in, and get an education in mental health. There are also several mental health care facilities throughout Omaha and Nebraska that offer effective programs to treat those with mental illness.

Mental Healthcare Facilities 

Today, Nebraska offers numerous mental healthcare facilities for those who are mentally ill.  These facilities provide those people with a number of different public inpatient, outpatient, emergency, and community services.  One well known facility in Omaha is Lasting Hope Recovery Center.  It is an assessment center that is similar to that of an emergency room.  People are invited to walk in on their own, and are even brought in by the police.  They have two acute units, as well as one special care unit for more serious cases.  The Lasting Hope Recovery Center is a pleasant place for the mentally ill, inside and out: the courtyard gives patients the ability to enjoy the outdoors and get some fresh air, while the inside is full of peaceful art and furniture.  These characteristics increase the chance that the patients will hopefully feel more comfortable and “at home.”

Immanuel Hospital is another location in Omaha that provides treatment to those with mental illness.  This hospital has two main units: an adolescent unit and an adult unit.  Immanuel Hospital also has a special care unit for more serious cases.  Patients also have the option for partial hospitalization.  This program is for those who wish to go to the hospital during the day for a couple of weeks.  This hospital also has the option of ECT- shock therapy for those who have not responded to medicinal treatment.  (Pictures of Immanuel and the other facilities discussed in this section can be found on our Prezi, which is linked towards the bottom of the research).

Another facility in Omaha, Nebraska is Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare.  They provide case management and housing assistance for youth and adults in Cass, Dodge, Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties.  They even offer a Mental Health First Aid class at Region 6 that “is an 8-hour training to teach participants how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis…it helps trainees identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders” (Mental Health First Aid Course).  The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) created Region 6, which is only one of the six regional facilities in Nebraska.

The DHHS annually reports on what type of people use their facilities and what factors cause necessary treatment.  They also have annual consumer surveys, which reveal how satisfied the patients’ were with their care.  Results from the 2014 Consumer Survey and 2014 Annual Report (found on our Prezi) show that more women seek mental health services than men do.  They also portray the notable difference in race, as whites are the largest population served by mental health care centers.  Racial and ethnic minorities do not have equal representation in these facilities, which shows that an article titled “Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity” from 1999 may still be true.  This research suggests that ethnic and racial minorities have less access to mental health services than whites do.  Even with these differences, the majority of patients reported that they were overall satisfied with the care they received in Nebraska’s facilities.  This information shows that mental health care has come a long way in Nebraska and differs from the treatment that was available years ago.

Mental health treatment was very different 100 or more years ago.  In the 1840’s people with mental illness were placed in institutions that were very similar to jails.  They were treated very cruel and sometimes starved.  The institutions were very filthy and uncomfortable.  In the 1880’s, people placed the mentally ill in the these institutions and ignored them. In the 1930’s Freud came up with new treatments that might help mental illness, including Electric Shock Therapy, Insulin-induced coma, Lobotomies, and Malaria infections.  Scientists began to experiment with different chemicals starting in the 1940’s and 50’s.  People then began to move out of the institutions and back into their communities.  According to, the communities were very slow to adapt to the people coming back into the community and offering care to them (History of Mental Health Treatment).  As the community in Nebraska continues to adjust to those who are mentally ill, the criminal justice system is also working to deal with these people.

Judicial Mental Health Treatment 

An article found in The Daily Nebraskan, published on Friday, March 18, 1966, suggests that Nebraska has always had problems dealing with mental illness judicially.  However, the justice system used to deal with the mentally ill very differently than it does today.  At the time this article was written, there was a growing demand for change in mental health laws.  Individuals were easily accused of being mentally ill, and then were immediately sent to a mental hospital or the county jail.  They were deprived certain constitutional rights in the process.  Another article titled “Those Who Are of Sound Mind” in the McCook Tribune published in 1900 portrays that society then viewed the mentally ill as innocents.  It claims that if someone committed a crime due to their mental health state, they were not guilty.  Now, Douglas County and other Nebraska jails are filled with a vast amount of mentally ill persons who need better treatment.  Inmates with mental health problems are not getting the care they need because prison systems are not designed to treat the mentally ill.  Some inmates even request special mental illness treatment, and those pleas are ignored.  Nebraska needs to pay closer attention to  these people and focus on getting them the help they need.

The Nebraska Criminal Justice System is trying to find a way to deal with a large number of inmates who suffer from some type of mental illness.  The small amount of insufficient treatment available for inmates with mental illnesses makes it impossible for them to get the care they really need.  According to Matt Miller, in his article published in the Omaha World-Herald, solitary confinement is directly linked to higher rates of self harm and suicide among these individuals.  Miller also claims that “there is even a name to describe the irrational paranoia, anger and perceptual distortions associated with prolonged periods in solitary: “SHU Syndrome,” or “Special Housing Unit Syndrome”” (Inmate in Solitary Confinement Goes Untreated).  Miller’s statements show that the lack of treatment in the prison system results in more problems for those with mental illnesses.  The judicial system in Nebraska is not fit to serve the mentally ill, yet Nebraska prisons hold hundreds of inmates with mental illnesses.

To get an inside perspective of the insufficient mental health treatment in the judicial system, we interviewed Meaghen Wostoupal, who has her Master’s in Clinical Counseling from the University of South Dakota.  She was a counselor at Family Works, where she dealt with women with co-occurring addictions and dual mental diagnoses.  When we asked her how the Nebraska criminal justice system deals with mental health issues, Meaghen stated, “they deal with it as best they can, with the limited resources they have. However, the criminal justice system is just not equipped to deal with mental health issues in their inmates, so the answer is very limitedly” (Wostoupal).  We also asked her what correlations she saw between mentally ill people and the criminal justice system, and she responded,

mental illness (usually undiagnosed or unmedicated) is eighty percent of the problem in the criminal justice system. Eighty percent of the people incarcerated have a mental illness. If we were to treat the underlying mental illness in these inmates, we could potentially wipe out over half of all criminal activity. For example, with drug crimes, many, many drug users use their drug of choice to help self-medicate their undiagnosed or unmedicated illness. People with severe, long-standing depression will often take “uppers” such as cocaine or meth. People with severe anxiety disorders will use marijuana or alcohol as a “downer” (Wostoupal).

Wostoupal’s interview portrays just how unfit to serve, and how overcrowded, the prison system is when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill.  In an article titled “Mentally Ill Inmates Need More Help Experts Warn State Legislative Panel, Paul Hammel and Matt Wynn state, “In Nebraska, the Douglas County Jail holds the most mentally ill people.” Hammel and Wynn also claim that ninety-five percent of inmates will end up returning to society.  However, those left untreated cannot overcome their mental illness, which results in them potentially being a danger to the public.  These reasons alone should push the Nebraska Judicial System to ensure inmates proper treatment.

One recent case in Nebraska really sparked the need for close attention to those in solitary confinement.  A man named Nikko Jenkins requested mental health treatment and threatened to kill people if he was released and left untreated.  His supplication and warning were ignored by Dr. Mark Weilage, the assistant behavioral health administrator for mental health.  Nikko was released, and murdered four people just days after his release.  In an article in the Omaha World-Herald, Paul Hammel writes,

the murder spree of released state inmate Nikko Jenkins, along with chronic overcrowding of state prisons, has helped push the issue of solitary confinement to the spotlight in Nebraska… His case prompted a special legislative investigation that concluded Jenkins’ time in isolation only worsened his mental state and, ‘very simply, made him more angry and disturbed.’  The committee, led by then-State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, recommended providing ‘meaningful mental health services’ to inmates in isolation as well as reducing the use of isolation for the mentally ill.  The committee recommended setting limits on time spent in solitary and offering more rehabilitation programs there. It also recommended allowing private conversations between inmates and mental health providers.(Fresh Hope for Inmates).

These quotes from Hammel’s article show that Nebraska’s judicial system is taking steps towards finding the right treatments for inmates with mental illnesses.

The judicial system in Nebraska is also searching for a solution to the congested prisons, which are full of people with mental health issues.  Martha Stoddard writes about this hopeful answer in the Omaha World-Herald.  She spoke to the Chief Justice, Michael Heavican, who informed her,

Money approved last year to expand Nebraska’s alternatives to prison already is showing results… the funds were used to expand what the court system has available to help criminals kick drug and alcohol problems and to get mental health care.  It provided for additional specialized substance abuse supervision, more day and evening reporting centers for probationers, and a greater focus on getting mental health services.  In his annual State of the Judiciary address, Heavican said those services save the state money by keeping people out of prison and have been proven more effective in reducing recidivism (Funds for Prison Alternatives).

The Chief Justice’s information provides the assurance that the judicial system in Nebraska is working toward dealing with the mentally ill, and actually benefits from doing so.  The criminal justice system is really inclined to help these people, since so many inmates in the Nebraska prison system have mental health problems.  There are still many barriers to cross in regards to dealing with mental illness effectively in the Nebraskan justice system, but steps are being taken in the right direction.

Many Nebraskans are affected by mental illness and require much more attention than what they receive.  There are a ton of opportunities for the Nebraska population to learn more about mental health, and also a wide variety of facilities available for those who need help.  Treatment for the mentally ill has expanded over the last one-hundred years, but there are still a lot of actions to be taken in order to completely improve life for the mentally ill in Nebraska.  Factors including stigma, gender differences, and more, hold these people back.  Jails unfit for treating the mentally ill are filled with them.  However, the judicial system is acting upon these problems to make a change and attempting to improve treatments available for these inmates.  Socially and culturally, those with mental illnesses are still looked down upon.  Nebraskans need to continue to support, and work towards efficiently treating the mentally ill in order to overcome this stigma.

Our Prezi:

Work Cited

CHI Health. n.p. n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Clean and Saving Taxpayers Millions.” World-Herald Bureau, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Apr.  2015.

“DHHS Internet Website – Behavioral Health.” Nebraska DHHS: Division of Behavioral Health. N.p., 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 03 May 2015.

Glazer, Sarah. “Prisoners and Mental Illness.” CQ Researcher. SAGE Publications, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Hammel, Paul. “Fresh Hope for Inmates like Chris Seaton.” Omaha World-Herald, 15 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Hammel, Paul, and Matt Wynn. “Mentally Ill Inmates Need More Help, Experts Warn State Legislative Panel.” N.p., 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

“History of Mental Health Treatment” Dualdiagnosis. n.p. n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

“Mental Health Committee Urges Better Facilities, Education.” The Daily Nebraskan (1953): n. pag. Web.

Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. N.p., 1999. Web. 2 May 2015.

Mental Health First Aid Course. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2015.

“Mentally Ill Persons in Corrections.” National Institute of Corrections. NIC, n.d. Web. 27 Apr.

Miller, Matt. “Inmate in Solitary Confinement Goes Untreated.” Omaha World-Herald. 16 Feb 2015. n. pag. Print.

“Nebraska – Treatment Advocacy Center Reports.” Nebraska – Treatment Advocacy Center Reports. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare. Web Designs. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Stoddard, Martha. “Chief Justice: Funds for Prison Alternatives.” Omaha World-Herald [Omaha] 29 Jan. 2015: n. pag. Print.

“Wayne State College Student Group Initiates Walk for Mental Health Awareness.” (2015): n. pag. Web. 2 May 2015.

Wostoupal, Meaghen. Personal Interview. 20 April 2015.

Zychal, Kietryn. “Standing in the Street Naked.” (2013): n. pag. Web. 2 May 2015.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s