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Richard Wansley and Anne Roberts: Oklahoma's other health crisis — the mental health crisis

Richard Wansley and Anne Roberts: Oklahoma's other health crisis — the mental health crisis

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Long before the onset of the current pandemic, statistical data from Mental Health America ranked Oklahoma as the 41st least healthy state in the nation. Compared to other states, we had a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care. In a separate study by America’s Health Rankings, Oklahoma ranked nearly the highest in the nation for “frequent mental distress.”

Improving health outcomes and rankings require the necessary financial and human resource allocations to fight this war adequately. Between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2020, state appropriations rose over 10.5%. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services budget, over that same time period rose just over 5.5%, not adjusted for inflation.

What’s even more telling is that because of our poor outcomes (mental health and substance use disorders), close to 60% of the department’s budget is allocated to community-based treatment and recovery services. Prevention services got just under 5% — not a level playing field.

It is critical that we provide services to everyone who needs them, but if we don’t also work upstream, we will never get at the root causes. We will continue to face the large disparities and poor outcomes associated with a 60% to 5% playing field.

Let’s remember what those numbers represent — our neighbors, our friends and our family members. Each one of us has been impacted by mental health issues in one way or another, but our outcomes and rankings remain stubbornly low. Solutions are needed to address this problem. It is time for the people of Oklahoma to come together and create solutions not just for a better Oklahoma, but for each person who has chosen to call Oklahoma home.

A healthy mental state is essential to overall positive health and economic well-being, and that is why the Oklahoma Academy Town Hall has chosen to focus on the topic of the mental health of Oklahoma for its 2020 Town Hall to be held in October at Osage Casino and Hotel in Tulsa. The town hall will research and discuss issues facing children and youth, how communities are responding, how the state is addressing the problem and how we are managing our resources. Issues related to childhood trauma, access to mental health professionals and facilities, drug and mental health courts, as well as educator and law enforcement training will be among the various areas addressed. Participants of the town hall will discuss, listen and come to a consensus on the policies needed to create a course of action for a solution.

With one of the highest rates of frequent mental distress in the nation, the need for Oklahoma to talk about ideas and working solutions is more urgent than ever.

Richard Wansley, Ph.D., is with Advocate Oklahoma, LLC. Anne Roberts is vice president of resource development for the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. Both are board members of the Oklahoma Academy and are serving as the Oklahoma Academy 2020 Town Hall Planning Committee co-chairs.

Featured video:

Let's Talk Mental Health

“Let’s Talk” is hosted by Tulsa World editorial pages editor Wayne Greene with guests Mike Brose, chief empowerment officer of Mental Health Oklahoma, and Dr. Sara Coffey, director of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.


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