One in four Oklahomans will experience mental illness at some point in their lifetimes. Yet funding for mental health has steadily declined nationally and still doesn't meet the need in Oklahoma. Fewer than half who live with mental illness are getting any treatment at all.
Oklahomans wouldn't tolerate this statistic if half of our people with cancer or with diabetes could not access treatment. Yet we dismiss or are embarrassed by mental illness and we ignore the lack of medical services needed for this population.
Government-funded mental health services are the bedrock of our nation's mental health care system. Federal and state funding determine our ability to provide the help needed so desperately by so many. One opportunity to address this need is the Excellence in Mental Health Act, a bipartisan bill in Congress.
If enacted, it would go a long way toward restoring Medicaid funding for community mental health centers nationwide, including the private and state-run mental health centers across Oklahoma. These programs provide lifelines for people facing serious anxiety, acute episodes of depression, and the life-lock of drug and alcohol dependency, as well as help for those contemplating suicide or struggling to recover from the traumas of nature's wrath.
This act would ensure that community behavioral health centers cover a range of mental health and addiction services: 24-hour crisis care, increased integration of physical and behavioral health needs and expanded support for the beleaguered families of people with mental health issues. The bill would provide care for as many as 1.5 million Americans living with mental illness, including an estimated 200,000 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with behavioral health needs.
Recent polls find that eight in 10 Americans support spending more money on mental health programs. Sadly, this support doesn't translate into certain passage of the Excellence in Mental Health Act. While nearly every legislator in Washington recognizes the need to make quality mental health care more available, some are reluctant to support additional federal spending in this time of tight budgets.
Such concern is understandable. But the Republican sponsors of the Senate legislation include Roy Blunt of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida, hardly tax-and-spend liberals. They recognize, as do so many Americans, that we need to get help to those facing mental illness. We can't say “no” to everything; saying “yes” to increased mental health services is the right thing to do.
Those living with mental illness can be helped. But that help can't be provided without adequate funding. When people get timely and effective treatment, it reduces expensive emergency room visits and hospitalizations and ultimately reduces incarcerations.
I urge Oklahoma's senators and congressman to support this bill. This is a moral and social issue that affects all of us as family members, employers and neighbors.
Boyd, a former state representative from Norman, is owner and CEO of Policy & Performance Consultants Inc.