White compares mental health treatment to an emergency room where the people with the worst conditions are treated first.
For mental health, that is a backwards approach, White said.
“Can you imagine if we didn’t treat other diseases until they got to that critical stage?” she said.
The most unfortunate part of Oklahoma’s situation is how treatable the problem is, said Dr. Brent Bell, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at St. Anthony Hospital.
Left untreated, mental illness often contributes to smoking, addiction and heart disease, lowering the overall health of the state.
“A person without treatment might die 20 years younger,” Bell said. “It just compounds. Good, early treatment is proven to work.”
White’s hope is that these numbers will open the eyes of policymakers to the need for increased funding to provide more access to those in need.
Oklahoma spends about $53 per capita on mental health treatment while the nation’s average is $120, White said. She believes more funding would save taxpayer money in the long run by cutting the number of people in the criminal justice system, in foster care and seeking treatment in hospital emergency rooms.
“We have had decades of neglect to overcome and if we are not going to treat this like the crisis it is, then things will not change,” White said. “Mental illness is not just ‘those people.’ It’s in every one of our families. It touches everybody and it doesn’t discriminate. The classroom of private schools and public schools. It’s in your fellow co-workers, it’s in our servicemen and women. It’s everywhere.”