Mental health care access continues to be a problem in the state

Advocates say that how we perceive mental disorders must change in order for treatment and access to improve.
BY VALLERY BROWN vbrown@opubco.com Published: December 23, 2012
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There is only one psychiatrist or psychologist in Oklahoma for every 3,500 residents. While the number of licensed counselors, therapists and behavioral practitioners is higher, there is still only one of them for every 530 Oklahomans.

“There is just not enough help out there,” Tyler said.

“Mental illness and addiction are diseases of the brain. They're diseases like any other and we still struggle for people to accept that,” said Terri White, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

“We have a huge gap in services.”

White said primary care doctors are improving at asking questions and detecting mental health issues, but some still don't screen for those problems.

“Until these diseases are fully integrated into our health care communities, there are going to be gaps in services,” she said.

White said Oklahoma consistently ranks near the bottom for funding one of the most common problems in Oklahoma and the country.

“When we have that low level of funding for mental health services, it feels like we're rolling the dice every day,” she said.

‘Taking away lives'

Dr. R. Murali Krishna, chief operating officer of Integris Mental Health and the James L. Hall Jr. Center for Mind, Body and Spirit, said there has to be a shift in how mental illness is perceived before access and treatment issues can be fixed.

He said people perceive mental illness in almost a mythical way — it's understood on the periphery but often isn't seen as other bodily diseases.

“There's misunderstanding that it's a weakness, that it's sin or that we're inadequate if we face mental illness,” he said. “People were tortured, imprisoned and punished historically for these diseases, and that's at the root of the stigma.”

Mental disorders can impact the body on a major level, Krishna said.

Untreated mental disorders increase one's chances for heart attacks and other health problems.

“These diseases are taking our lives away decades sooner, but we still assign only a small percentage of health care to mental health care costs,” he said. “We must do a better job of informing and changing the prefixed opinions about mental disorders.”

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