Op Ed: Mental Health in Oklahoma

By Armeen Namjou

A friend of mine told me that Griffin Memorial hospital would be closing down soon. After my initial shock, and thanks to my best friend Google, it turns out Griffin will eventually be moved from where it’s at now—but, my Googling session turned out to be much longer than I anticipated. As a psychology pre-med student at OU I know enough about my field to understand, firstly, that there is a massive stigma surrounding the mentally ill and, secondly, that budgets to care for the mentally ill are generally low. As someone who has struggled with bouts of depression, this issue has stuck with me, so I decided to investigate how much Oklahoma invests in caring for the mentally ill—and, spoiler alert, what I found was discouraging.

To start, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services or ODMHSAS for short, Oklahoma only spends $53.05 per capita to provide mental health services—the national average is $120.56. This is quite alarming considering that 22.4% of all Oklahomans experience some sort of mental illness—which is the 3rd highest ranking among states—and 11.9% of Oklahomans suffer from some sort of substance abuse, which is the 2nd highest ranking among the states. Given Oklahoma’s seemingly rampant mental health problem, it is discouraging to know that 6 out of 10 adults and 4 out of 10 youth do not receive treatment. Perhaps it is this lack of treatment that leads to the statistic that 4.4% of Oklahoman adults report serious thoughts of suicides—the 5th highest rate in the nation.

Though I didn’t realize how bad the mental health problem was in Oklahoma, in some ways it is not too surprising. In general, we’re a very physically unhealthy state, so is it any real surprise that we would have serious issues with mental health, too? We are also a state that firmly believes in working hard and making it to the top, which is a wonderful way to approach many aspects of life, but as a side effect this approach has led to stigmas surrounding mental health. I mean, think about your general health care physician: have you ever brought up any negative psychological symptoms you’ve had with them or have they asked you?

The way we address mental health problems in Oklahoma is through extremes. People won’t receive help until they are calling crisis centers; or, their mental illness will manifest until they become incarcerated. This blog, and this club as a whole, aim to tackle and discuss the social injustices that plague our community—mental illness is a part of that. In fact, it is a universal affliction, no matter who you are or where you come from. And, granted, many mental illnesses stem from the environment you grow up in, which relates back to social justice and economic, racial, and social inequalities, but if we can’t even provide sufficient services for people who have reached a point where the way they think or act negatively affects their everyday lives—then what are we doing?

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