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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 Published: December 23, 2012

The statistics are staggering.

Nearly half of all Americans will develop a mental illness during their lifetime, according to data from the National Comorbidity Survey.

More than a quarter of adults in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental health problem, but only about half seek treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates about 22 percent of Oklahomans have some form of mental health issue.

Advocates say the heart of the problem is a fragmented system of care spanning the public and private market, spilling over into nonprofit or community care, and in many cases, the prison system.

“Mental disorders are more prevalent than heart disease, diabetes, stroke ... As a society we don't take it as seriously as some other health problems because of the stigma of being identified,” said Harry Tyler, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Central Oklahoma.

Tyler said education is critical to getting help to people and in breaking down the barriers to care, including the stigma often associated with mental illness.

Tragedies highlight issue

“I'm angry over what has happened in Connecticut,” he said, referring to the Sandy Hook School shootings that killed 26 people Dec. 14. “It angers me when things like this happen, and there are warning signs that are ignored.”

Though investigators haven't said definitively whether the shooter, Adam Lanza, suffered from any mental illness, the tragedy has nonetheless spurred discussion about mental health, particularly in the wake of other tragedies when mental illness has been at the fore.

Jared Loughner — who is serving seven life sentences for the 2011 Tucson, Ariz., shootings that killed six people, badly wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and wounded 13 others — has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Defense attorneys for the suspect in Colorado's deadly movie theater attack, James Holmes, have said he's mentally ill.

The majority of adults with diagnosable conditions, however, do not get any treatment, according to the American Hospital Association's Trendwatch report.

The most common reason is cost, followed by patients' believing they can handle the illness on their own, don't have time for treatment and don't know where to go to get help, the report shows.

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