GOV. Mary Fallin made it a point last year to steer added state funding toward mental health services and hopes to do the same this year. It's a prudent move, one lawmakers should support.
The National Institute of Mental Health says more than one-fourth of adults in the United States have a diagnosable mental health problem. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates 22 percent of Oklahomans have a mental health issue of some kind.
This takes an enormous toll, particularly on the criminal justice system. According to the Department of Corrections, half of all state inmates have a history of, or now exhibit, some form of mental illness; one-fourth of the prison population exhibits symptoms of serious mental illness. From 1998 to 2006, our state's prison population grew by 19 percent but the number of prisoners getting psychotropic drugs increased almost threefold. In Oklahoma's two medium-security facilities for juveniles, more than half the inhabitants have significant mental health concerns, officials say.
Meantime the amount of state-allocated dollars for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services declined by about $30 million (11 percent) from fiscal year 2009 to FY 2012. Last year, Fallin's budget included new funding to build a 16-bed community crisis center. The agency also got an additional $667,000 for mental health screenings to determine the risks and needs of offenders.
Fallin wants this year to give the agency an additional $16 million. This would be used for another crisis center, to bolster programs aimed at reducing suicide and prescription drug abuse, and to help children and families with children who have serious emotional issues.
Fallin's decision not to expand the state's Medicaid program as part of Obamacare means saying no to additional federal money that could have gone to mental health coverage. The health care exchanges that are another piece of the new federal law will also make mental health-related benefits available, but Oklahoma isn't building an exchange, either.