Oklahoma is home to one of the darkest paradoxes in national statistics. Despite being the thirteenth highest state in national suicide rate, it ranks at 46th in mental health spendings. With an annual rate of 80 suicides in Tulsa alone, Oklahoma’s mental health spending is an issue that must be dealt with.
In Oklahoma, many people suffering from mental health or addiction problems will contact treatment centers only to be turned down. State officials explain that, even though the number of citizens in Oklahoma needing state-funded health care has risen, their funding for the treatment has fallen. With extreme cases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the state can’t afford to increase preventative services. The state will only pay for a citizen’s services if they meet certain criteria. For a family of three, the annual income can be no higher than 20,090 dollars. There are also ‘levels of illness severity’ based on the citizen’s diagnosed illness and the degree of their functional impairment. They must fall into the two worst levels of severity in order to be eligible. This leads to many citizens being told they can’t be treated unless their case worsens. Terri White, the commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services explains,“We have to serve those most in need because we have limited resources, so that’s how we have to prioritize…What that means is you go without until you get sick enough – which is a horrible way to do health care.”
The case is the same for substance abuse victims. If a victim makes more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, presumably enough to pay for treatment yourself, or does not fall into the top three most severe levels of substance abuse, they are turned away. Janet Cizek, the CEO and managing partner for the Center for Therapeutic Interventions in Tulsa estimates that for every seventy five people who come to the center for help, twenty are turned away. “We’re seeing the worst of the worst…we have to turn people away all the time. You either have to get into a crisis where you’re using so much you’re about to die or you start committing crimes,” she explains.
The paradox of poor mental health funding gets worse when you consider its results. As mentally unstable or substance abusing citizens go without intervention, their chances of committing crimes or their cases worsening increase. Eventually, many of these people need to be institutionalized, whether that be in a hospital or prison. Although the state didn’t treat the citizen earlier, they must now pay for their incarceration or mental care. The price of housing an inmate in Oklahoma can cost anywhere from fourteen to 29 thousand dollars per prisoner. More money is spent and now the citizen’s life is a whole lot more difficult than it needed to be. More federal funding would likely not be as expensive as it appears at first glance, due to less spent on incarceration or hospital stays.
One solution would be to expand Medicaid. Cizek argues, “There’s a huge gap of people out there, from 250,000 to 300,000, who could access Medicaid federal dollars, but can’t because our state didn’t expand Medicaid…I think the state is in a world of hurt [because we haven’t]”.
Whatever the details are, Oklahoma needs to prioritize earlier interventions when it comes the mentally ill. It is part of the government’s responsibility to treat those needing mental care. If they don’t receive it, people fall through the cracks and ending up costing the state anyway. The chair of psychiatry for the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine explains, “We have to make a point in society that we believe the treatment of psychiatric disorders is important to the person, to the family as a unit, but also to the community, to the state and to the country…Because if we don’t treat mental illness appropriately, we’re going to pay for the consequences anyway.”