Melissa Lee slammed her hand in her car door a few times, hoping it would distract her from the thoughts she couldn’t control.
Weeks before, a man had date-raped her, Lee said, and it had brought up repressed childhood memories of a relative who had molested her when she was a child.
“My mind just kept spinning,” Lee said. “It was like it was spinning all this stuff inside of it, and every once in a while it would spill it out, ‘You were raped’ or ‘You were molested’ or ‘Why didn’t you protect yourself?’ or ‘You should have done this.’
“All these thoughts will race in your head and you can’t stop them long enough to focus on one issue, and when that happens, your mind overtakes your whole body and you just become numb, (and) it’s hard to function in life.”
Lee, 51, felt like she had two options: commit herself into a mental health crisis center — or end her life.
She had a moment of clarity and called her own intervention, meeting a small group of her friends and family at Legion Park in El Reno. Gathered beneath a pavilion, among swing sets and a playground, Lee sat at a picnic table with her loved ones and told them she needed help.
Almost two years later, Lee is thriving and thankful to be alive, having received treatment through the nonprofit agency NorthCare — treatment that she says saved her life.
“They care,” Lee said. “It’s not, ‘I don’t think you need this,’ or ‘You’re just lying.’ They‘re there to help you focus on what you need, and they’re there to help you with it.”
NorthCare is an outpatient behavioral health center that provides services across the western half of Oklahoma to children, families and adults in communities throughout Oklahoma since 1981.
The nonprofit organization is considered a “safety net” provider, with mental health services available for people who likely couldn’t otherwise afford them.
The demand for those services is high, as Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the nation, according to federal government data.
However, a majority of adults — 70 percent — who need mental health treatment don’t receive it, often because of an overworked mental health system, according to data from the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department.
Meanwhile, deaths in Oklahoma due to suicide are increasing, jumping from 567 in 2009 to 618 in 2010, according to the state’s mental health agency.
That’s one of the reasons why it can be critical to get people into services quickly, as Lee did.
After going to a mental health crisis center, where people who are either an immediate danger to themselves or others are stabilized, Lee was referred to NorthCare.
Through one-on-one treatment and group therapy, Lee found clarity and recovery.
In June 2012, Lee was date-raped by a man she had talked with online and over the phone for two years, she said. She thought she knew him and could trust him.
The incident became even more overwhelming when Lee began to remember repressed memories from her childhood, when she was molested by a relative from the time she was 3 until about age 12, she said.
“When that happened in June, it was like everything just exploded all over again, and I was 12 years old — I was scared,” Lee said. “Before it happened, I was independent, head-strong and self-reliant.”
When Lee first walked into NorthCare’s office near downtown Oklahoma City, she was shaking and scared.
Laurie Maberry, one of her best friends, stood by her, ensuring she got the care she needed and understood her options.
Maberry held Lee’s hand and would reword the questions that Lee was asked during the initial assessment because Lee was having trouble focusing. Lee wasn’t herself, Maberry said.
“We’re just grateful for the program because we couldn’t do anything but pray for her and be there for her financially and physically, however we needed to be there for her, but we didn’t have the skills or know what to do,” Maberry said.
Randy Tate, CEO of NorthCare, said NorthCare hopes to increase its presence in Oklahoma City by establishing a behavioral health and wellness campus.
NorthCare plans to build the campus where the Oklahoma County Crisis Intervention Center sits along 2625 General Pershing Blvd. When it’s complete, the campus will include not only mental health services, but also primary care doctors and possibly dental services as well, Tate said.
In Oklahoma, people with mental illness live, on average, to 58, whereas an average Oklahoman without mental illness lives to almost 72. Meanwhile, an Oklahoman with both a mental illness and a substance abuse issue lives to an average age of 41.
Tate said increasing access to services beyond behavioral health for NorthCare’s patients can mean access to services they might not otherwise get.
“We feel like it’s really important to look at a person in the sense of a whole being and not just compartmentalize health and behavioral health and so forth,” Tate said. “We really want to look at all dimensions of wellness.”
Lee said her family, friends and NorthCare counselors saved her life.
Almost two years later, she sits in her apartment, decorated with countless pictures of her two adult sons, her four grandsons and other family members and friends. And she is glad she’s around to appreciate the life she has.
“If it weren’t for my friends, they’re the best — and I love NorthCare,” Lee said.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). The lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
We needed to be there for her, but we didn’t have the skills or know what to do.”