Bridging a Critical Gap: White Calls for More Mental Health Funding in Okla

Article excerpt

Gale Hobson, licensed psychologist and medical director for Mercy Behavioral Health, has a passion for treating and preventing mental illness.

In a state with the second highest rate of mental illness per capita, she has her work cut out for her. Hobson is faced with providing treatment to people in several Mercy facilities, while maintaining a high quality of care. With decades of reduced funding, the need for counseling and treatment of mental in the state is high, and the consequences can be dire.

Terri White, commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said that in the last four years, the state has reduced funding for mental health and substance abuse programs by more than $30 million. And her agency wasn't hit as hard by budget cuts compared with other agencies, because the Legislature recognized the need for those services, she said.

"Reducing mental health and substance abuse services has devastating effects," White said. "It is correlated with an increase in suicides, an increase in contact with the criminal justice system, and even people being admitted to the emergency room for untreated mental health issues."

The gap between people who need treatment and people who receive it is great: Only about 30 percent of Oklahomans who qualify for treatment receive it, White said, because the funding runs out. Oklahoma also has one of the lowest rates of funding for treatment of mental illness and substance abuse.

Hobson saw the need in Mercy's hospitals, so she worked with administrators to create a program to provide mental health services to patients admitted for medical reasons. The program also provides much needed resources to family members. Because the problem of mental illness underlies many medical issues, it is pervasive, White said.

"We know primary caregivers are dealing patients with mental illness issues, or untreated depression," White said. "We've got to have whole health care system treating this. That is why Mercy's program is so important."

Edna Nelson is licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist who works at Mercy on a contract basis. …

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