Advocates work for better mental health care in Oklahoma

Advocates work for better mental health care in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KSWO) –The State of Oklahoma ranks second in the nation when it comes to the number of adults with a mental illness, yet the state ranked 46th when it comes to funding and access to medical care.

Advocates are working to not only lessen the stigma surrounding mental illness and substance abuse, but open the lines of discussion. They especially hope to raise awareness of the need for adequate funding for mental health. 7News anchor Paula Van Drisse spoke not only state leaders, but medical professionals and with one man who shared his own journey.

"My story really begins as a child, a child of abuse-physical, emotional and sexual abuse," David Rice said. "I did a lot of things to cover my pain, got involved in drugs as a teenager, started drinking very early and the solution became the problem."

Rice is like countless others who struggle with mental illness or substance abuse. He lost jobs, relationships and became homeless twice; spending years masking his pain and suffering in silence.

"We've always been told to pick yourself up by the boot straps, you're a man you're not supposed to cry," Rice said.

"Everyone knows what the stigma is…that if you ask someone if they want to see a counselor or a psychiatrist something is seriously wrong with you," said Kim Holland a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner.

"Most people tend to think they can fix themselves and the reality is if we could have we would a long time ago," Rice said.

The need for better treatment drew hundreds of supporters to the Oklahoma Capitol to urge legislators to increase mental health funding in the state of Oklahoma.

"This year, more than any other year, we're facing the dilemma that only one in every three people who need help can get help, and that door is going to  narrow," Terri White, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services commissioner, said.

That's why mental health advocates, including healthcare providers, are urging legislators to support the Medicaid Rebalancing Act of 2020, possibly funding it through increasing the tobacco tax by a $1.50.

"It could actually be the thing that really saves the system. I've been in behavioral health over 30 years, I've seen an unprecedented number of individuals seeking services the last two-three years. There simply is not enough money to do what we need to," said Verna Foust, Red Rock Behavioral Health Services.

"It's more expensive to deal with the negative consequences than fund mental health care in the first place," White said.

Consequences such as increased arrests, incarcerations, homelessness and suicides.

"Every dollar that is put into mental health, for instance, saves $8 in mental health benefits later on," Holland said.

This year alone, Oklahoma has seen $22.8 million in cuts to mental health care funding. The rally was to encourage legislators to maintain that funding and put another step forward."

"You all helped us pass the assisted outpatient therapy bill that we have named the Mark Costello Act," they said during the rally. The Mark Costello Act, named after the former Oklahoma Labor Commissioner, was sent to the governor's desk the day of the rally and is now law. It's designed to help those with severe mental illness stick to a treatment plan, requiring those that meet criteria, such as being over 18, having more than two hospitalizations in a year and a history of non-compliance, to participate in assisted outpatient treatment.

"I believe that if this bill had been in place eight months ago, my son, my husband would be alive and my son would not be in the county jail, because my son would ask for help staying on his medication," said Cathy Costello, widow of the late labor commissioner.

In August, Costello's husband was stabbed to death outside of an Oklahoma City restaurant. The Costello's son, Christian, who suffers from schizophrenia, is now charged with first-degree murder in his father's death. Costello says it's not just an emotional struggle, it's a financial one.

She and her husband spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to find care for Christian, sometimes receiving no insurance coverage at all. She says a shift has begun towards more mental health coverage, but she would like to see more.

"Mental health is a real disorder, a disease, a chemical imbalance like any other health issue that gets a great deal of coverage. It's not getting the coverage it needs, deserves, warrants," Costello said.

For those seeking help for themselves, they must first want it. For David Rice, he says it took making the decision to get back on his feet and reaching out for support through the Salvation Army and Celebrate Recovery. It was a journey that led him to a job working at Jim Taliaferro Community Mental Health Center where he helps others facing similar struggles.

"It's very rewarding for me to actually see healing in people's lives and even if they stumble to encourage them if you fall down to get back up on that the horse. It's been a blessing because I get to share that hope with people that you know it doesn't have to be the end, it's a beginning," Rice said.

To find services offered in your area, including support groups and other free or low cost programs, visit the national alliance on mental illness-Oklahoma by calling 1-800-950- NAMI or by visiting

Other resources include:

Oklahoma Insurance Department

Suicide Prevention Lifeline
800-273-TALK or 800-SUICIDE

Veterans Crisis Line
1-800-273-8255 (press 1)

Heartline 2-1-1

Celebrate Recovery

United Way Partner Agencies

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