State making advances in mental-health care
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/03/13 at 7:29 AM
If lawmakers do nothing else in the upcoming legislative session, they will have accomplished a monumental achievement if they continue expanding mental-health care.
Even before the Newtown, Conn., tragedies focused the spotlight anew on mental health, advocates here were painfully aware of how serious the need for expanded services and treatment is.
Thankfully for our state, which has some of the worst mental-health problems in the nation, Gov. Mary Fallin and a growing number of other state leaders recognize the need for improving treatment. For the second year in a row, Fallin has made such improvements a top priority.
This session, she is seeking an additional $16 million for the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services - funding that would go toward a third community crisis center, the first-ever state-funded suicide prevention program, prescription drug abuse treatment and a comprehensive program for families with seriously troubled children.
Fallin displayed a welcome understanding of mental-health issues in announcing her goal. "We can do a better job of assessing an issue that a person might have as it relates to a behavioral issue - whether it's a mental health issue, a substance abuse issue or whether they have some criminal behavior within themselves," she said. "And where does that person really belong? Do they belong in a mental health facility? Do they belong in a correctional facility? Or do they need treatment for some type of substance abuse problem?"
Last year, Fallin won legislative approval of more than $6 million in new funding, which went toward the comprehensive family program known as Systems of Care, and to a new community crisis center. The funding, it turns out, will be sufficient to build two new crisis centers; if the third is funded this session, the state will be well on its way to realizing the goal of having five such centers scattered across the state.
The suicide-prevention funding is an especially noteworthy proposal, since the state has not in the past directed funds to that purpose. A three-year federal grant that has been funding that service is about to expire.
While the attention on mental-health services is encouraging and any new funding is helpful, the sad fact is the need will still far outstrip the available resources.
The mental health department estimates that 70 percent of the adults in Oklahoma and 40 percent of children who need mental-health treatment aren't able to access such care. And the vast majority of both adults and children - about 80 percent - who need substance treatment also aren't able to obtain that service.
Mental-health disorders are the third leading cause of chronic disease in Oklahoma, affecting more residents than heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke.
According to the department, a recent federal survey estimated that more than 245,000 Oklahomans over age 12 abuse or are dependent on alcohol or illicit drugs. A recent national survey on drug use ranked Oklahoma No. 1 in the country for nonmedical use of pain relievers.
The state also in a recent national survey posted the second highest rate of serious psychological distress, with more than 380,000 Oklahomans - about 14 percent of the adult population - reporting such problems.
Oklahoma workers dealing with depression and addiction cost their employers an estimated $600 million a year in medical expenses, according to the department.
The ultimate price
Sometimes, the cost of untreated mental illness and/or addiction is the ultimate price. While massacres such as Newtown understandably capture our attention, the more common reality is that mental illness most often leads to the sufferer's loss of life.
In a multi-year study of suicide in Oklahoma, the mental health department found that suicide has been on the rise in Oklahoma in recent years. Between 2004-2008, 2,673 deaths by suicide were reported in Oklahoma. The state's suicide rate per 100,000 residents grew during that time span from 14.1 percent to 15.9 percent - well above the national average during that era of 11.2 percent.
About 58 percent of the reported violent deaths during that period were due to suicide. Nearly a quarter of those who lost their lives to suicide had served in the U.S. military.
What's especially tragic is that huge numbers of these Oklahomans might be alive today had treatment been accessible to them. The top circumstance associated with suicide, when available, was "current depressed mood," cited in 43 percent of the deaths. An estimated 30 percent had a current mental-health problem. And 31 percent had communicated their intentions to someone else.
In 12 percent of the cases, substance abuse was a "known issue," and alcohol was a factor in 12 percent. In cases where tests were conducted, 30 percent were positive for alcohol and 86 percent for drugs.
These statistics reflect a grim reality, hard to take in and harder to handle. But there is another reality, as noted in a mental health department plea to lawmakers last year.
"The reality is this: The sooner a mental or addictive disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome for all involved, just as is the case with diabetes, cancer or heart disease when diagnosed early.
"Advances in treatment have improved over the past few years and - now, more than ever before - we are seeing the benefits of prevention in the areas of both mental health and addiction; in earlier intervention and in expanding opportunities for recovery throughout our state."
Proven methods of intervention and treatment are proliferating, and if even more such services were available, more people could be helped. Drug courts, mental health courts, team-based community treatment programs for those with serious mental illness, and comprehensive wrap-around services for families all have been proven to reduce the serious consequences of mental illness.
Meaning this reality, detailed in another department document, could be the new reality for many more Oklahomans:
"People in recovery ... do function well in society; do make a positive contribution to society; do learn ways to manage symptoms; use experience with mental illness as a source of knowledge and expertise; do learn from and teach other consumers, and do recover from serious mental illness."
Original Print Headline: Changing our reality
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328