Oklahoma Watch Mental Health Forum
Last night, I attended the Oklahoma Watch Mental Health Forum where Terri White, Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Michael Brose, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association Oklahoma, spoke and answered questions about the state of mental health in Oklahoma. It was a worthwhile event for our community to have the opportunity to speak directly with two very passionate mental health advocates. I learned lots of disturbing facts such as that mental illness is the third leading cause of chronic disease in our state. The biggest takeaway messages were around suicide prevention and the fact that mental illness and addiction are diseases of the brain.
On the topic of suicide prevention, 30,000 deaths by suicide occur every year compared to 18,000 homicides nationwide. Though I already knew that suicide deaths are double the number of homicide deaths, it is a statistic that shocks me every time I hear it. As Commissioner White stated, we all must get comfortable, or at least less uncomfortable, with asking the question, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”. Even for those of us who work in the mental health field, this is a difficult question to ask whether it is being posed to a stranger or someone close to you. We continue to believe various myths about suicide that are just not true. You will not give someone the idea to end their life by asking if they are having these thoughts. You can save the life of someone who wants to die. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to ask the question, and guide that person to where they can get help.
We still have so much stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction. This can be dispelled by educating people about the fact that these are diseases of the brain. We have the information and technology now to see the clear difference between a sick brain and a healthy one. Large display boards depicted these images last night at the community forum. If we really saw someone with diabetes and someone with schizophrenia as both having diseases, one of the pancreas and one of the brain, we would not be transporting people with mental illness or addiction in the back of police cars. The way in which we transport people in need of psychiatric or substance abuse treatment in this state is proof that we have a long way to go to reach true mental health parody.
There was a lot of hope in the room as well. Commissioner White pointed out that Oklahoma has the largest telecommunication services in the nation. This program has received national awards and was born out of a lack of resources for many of our rural communities. Executive Director Brose offered to personally help one of the attendees who expressed a struggle with his 26 year old son who is refusing treatment for psychosis. We are quite fortunate to have Terri White and Michael Brose working as hard as they do for the health and wellness of people in Oklahoma.