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Opinion: Cuts to Oklahoma's mental health services could prove detrimental to students, adults

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Taitum Wilson

It seems as if the Oklahoma legislature’s quest to find a budget solution will never end. The recent rally outside the State Capitol on Oct. 24 showed the pinnacle of Oklahoma residents’ frustration with the legislature’s inability to remedy the nearly $214 budget shortfall. Apparently, the best the state could come up with is to cut Oklahoma’s mental health and substance abuse services, showing that the government cannot grasp the importance of mental health issues in Oklahoma.

If these budget cuts were to happen, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would have to end state funded outpatient services, a service utilized by nearly 189,000 Oklahomans. The Oklahoma legislature’s negligence to such a huge number of residents is startling, but telling. It further reinforces to constituents that the mental health of Oklahomans is not a priority.

A look at the numbers shows the truly jarring state of Oklahomans’ mental health. Oklahoma ranks 42 out of 51 in overall access to mental health care, which is alarming considering that approximately 22 percent of Oklahoma residents suffer from some mental illness, according to data from 2016. The importance of state provisions of mental health care is extremely important when Oklahoma ranks 44 in adults with disabilities who could not see a doctor due to cost.

This is where cuts to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will be most detrimental. We have a high volume of people with mental health disabilities and a high volume of people who need government assistance to receive proper care.   

Children are even worse off in some aspects, as the state of Oklahoma ranks 50 in children whose private insurance did not cover mental or emotional problems. Oklahoma also ranks 50 in youth nonmedical use of pain relievers, and 41 in youth with major depressive episodes who did not receive mental health services.  

By supporting budget cuts to mental health and substance abuse services is deciding to ignore these figures, and disregarding the thousands upon thousands of constituents who are suffering from these issues. However, this disregard for mental health and substance abuse issues is not a new issue. It’s something Oklahoma has consistently failed on.       

OU specifically has seen issues pertaining to mental health services. Students and Norman residents are still questioning how much longer the OU Counseling Psychology Clinic will be available to provide more affordable mental health care, not to mention the prolonged wait times of patients needing to receive mental health care at OU’s Goddard Counseling Center because of their lack of staff and resources.       

It’s beyond time for students’ mental health to be given priority. We face the daunting pressures of ever-increasing financial burdens, heavy school loads, work and internship commitments and social demands. It is unfair to ignore these burdens and the possible effects they may have on young people’s mental health and stability. Instead of adding to the complications concerning mental health in Oklahoma, it’s long overdue for Oklahoma to get on board with recognizing, addressing and taking steps to remedy the problem.


 

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