March 6, 2014

Funding key to county mental health problem

Okla. ranked second in nation for prevalence of mental illness

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star


A recent national study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found Oklahoma to have the second highest prevalence of mental illness in the United States. 

At the local level, Grady Memorial Hospital Vice President of Patient Care Cathy Groseclose said psychological patients account for the second largest number of transfers from their facility. 

"I saw the report and I was not shocked at all," Groseclose said. "This is a real problem." 

The ill make their way to one of a potential host of facilities after leaving Grady Memorial. Many seek treatment at Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in Chickasha, the only publicly funded mental health center in Grady County.  

Regional Program Director Steven Mills said Red Rock treats a variety of conditions. 

"If someone were to walk through our doors we would assess behavioral health and substance abuse issues," he said. "With adults it's (substance abuse) a common enough occurrence where we screen everyone for it." 

Mills said he could not speak to why the problem is so evident in Oklahoma, but he is not surprised by its continual growth. 

"I have been at this for 35 years and there really isn't an emphasis on preventative work in this state,"  he said. "The old adage was, 'For every $1 you spend on prevention, you save $11 on treatment.' Mental health is the first thing that gets cut in a state budget. It's regrettable and Oklahoma is always in the bottom five of states for behavioral health funding." 

The study reiterated Mills' point. 

Nationally, state mental health agencies spend an average of $120.56, per capita, to provide citizens with mental health care, according to the report. 

Oklahoma spends $53.05, per person, on mental health services. Only five states spend less than Oklahoma. The study states the regional average of states surrounding Oklahoma is approximately $80 per person.

“People become more seriously ill when they’re unable to access services early in the disease process, and it results in more severe and costly problems later on,” Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said. “We’re feeling the impact of this increasing need for services in the public system, as well as the private system – and with scarce resources, more people are going without services at the exact time that more people need them. It’s creating a perfect storm, with no letup in sight.”

The study showed Oklahoma ranks second nationally in both categories used to ascertain prevalence of mental illness: number of adults meeting diagnostic criteria for serious mental illness (SMI); and any mental illness (AMI) experienced in the past year.

Nationally, among adults 18 and older, the national average of SMI is 4 percent. In Oklahoma, that rate is 5.24 percent, representing approximately 152,134 adult Oklahomans, the study reads. 

"Approximately 18.2 percent of adults nationally experienced 'any mental illness' in the past year; in Oklahoma, the rate is 22 percent, or 635,248 Oklahomans," the report states.

Mills said a key to combatting this problem is to move away from curing mental illness and working more on disease management. 

"We use the analogy with clients, 'You wouldn't think twice about taking insulin for diabetes and the same can be said about mental illness,'" he said. 

Groseclose said maybe some preventable measures will improve with the advent of The Affordable Care Act. 

"These are the people this bill is supposed to help," she said. "Some times they end up in jail, and granted they may have done something wrong, but that's not where they need to be." 

Those experiencing any sort of mental health illness or interested in seeking counseling can contact Red Rock by going to 804 W. Choctaw Chickasha, or calling 405-222-0622.