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mental health

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Amid the celebrations and self-help resolutions, 2017 began in Oklahoma as it has in many other years: with a rash of people taking their own lives.

In the first week, there nine self-inflicted gunshot deaths, four hangings and a deliberate drug overdose, occurring in cities large and small. With those 14 deaths, the year was off to a familiar tragic start in a state that perennially ranks among the 10 worst in the nation in suicide rates.

In this May 5, 1995 file photo, a large group of search and rescue crew attends a memorial service in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Bill Waugh / AP Photo

Richard Williams just walked out of a meeting in the Murrah Federal Building on the morning of April 19, 1995. He was talking with a colleague when the blast went off. It’s the last thing he remembers.

“I was dug out by an Oklahoma City policeman, taken to the university hospital where they treated me with triage and subsequently follow-up surgeries and physical therapy and all those kind of things for years,” Williams said.

Caroline Halter/KGOU

 

Employees from several human services agencies gathered on the corner of 12th and Robinson in Norman Tuesday afternoon, holding signs and waving to cars driving by. It was one of several of this week’s demonstrations by state employees, who have joined teachers to protest department funding and salaries.

Jennifer Malwick was one of about 30 state employees to use a Tuesday lunch break or paid leave to send a message to state lawmakers. Malwick’s sign said, I help the people you won’t make eye contact with.

And The Rest / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

When Moore Public School Superintendent Robert Romines asked some of his high school students what the district could do better, they told him they needed more help with mental health.

“I was a bit shocked,” Romines says.

More and more of Oklahoma’s teenagers are dealing with mental illness, and the increase has caught a few school administrators off guard.

Meteorologist Rick Smith responds to messages on the National Weather Service Facebook account. On stormy days, the forecast office in Norman often receives messages every few minutes from people worried about tornadoes.
Nomin Ujiyediin / KGOU

When meteorologist Rick Smith was growing up in Memphis in the 1960s and '70s, he was terrified of tornadoes. When storms approached, he glued himself to the weather radio and TV, gathering as much information as he could. At night, he cowered in his parents’ bed, covering his ears to block out the sound.

“It was like this mysterious, loud monster at night that you just didn’t know exactly what it would do to you,” Smith said.

Josh Cantwell, Grand Lake Mental Health Center adult services administrator, demonstrates how the organization's iPad program works to help clients access treatment.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

 

Patricia Tompkins wanted help for her son, Eric Tompkins.

Eric, 41, of Ardmore, was suffering from severe depression, according to statements made online by Patricia and other members of Eric’s family. On the morning of Aug. 8, 2015, she suspected he had attempted to kill himself by drinking roach poison.

Leah Thompson Carter, of Bartlesville, lost her son to a prescription drug overdose and is afraid she will lose another. Here, she speaks at the Suicide Awareness Summit in Bartlesville in September.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

For many Oklahomans, the tug of war between drug addiction and the wait time for treatment can be a one-sided competition: The power of addiction often wins.

Those who lack insurance or cannot pay out of pocket often find themselves on a long waiting list that prioritizes the most severe drug addiction cases. If the person isn’t pregnant or injecting drugs, he or she will not receive state-funded treatment or will be forced to wait, sometimes weeks, until a spot opens up.

Carol Barnes, of Ponca City, says that one of her greatest fears was losing her vehicle, cutting off her only access to mental health treatment.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

There was a time in Carol Barnes’ life when the prospect of losing her car would have worsened her already severe anxiety and depression.

When she was struggling with her disorders during the mid-2000s, Barnes said, losing her only means of transportation would have meant losing access to her mental health providers.

About one in five children in the United States shows signs of a mental health disorder — anything from ADHD to eating disorders to suicide.

And yet, as we've been reporting this month, many schools aren't prepared to work with these students. Often, there's been too little training in recognizing the problems, the staff who are trained are overworked, and there just isn't enough money.

Robinson Tolbert was honored in 2014 by the University of Oklahoma’s Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work Hall of Fame for her work in rural areas,
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

From its vast, open ranges in the northwest to its lush, rolling hills in the southeast corner, rural Oklahoma still evokes an idyllic image.

The archetype of quiet, small towns with a strong sense of community – where friendliness is abundant and “big city” stresses are few – often marks the popular imagery used to represent the state and its values.

But for many of those who live in Oklahoma’s rural areas, the reality does not match the trouble-free imagery.

Reaina Harris is diversion program coordinator with Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, which partners with the Midwest City Police Department to provide mental health and substance abuse programs to prisoners.
Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

Midwest City Jail officials are trying to break the cycle of repeat offenders in their custody.

Police Chief Brandon Clabes says mental health and substance abuse services for inmates are offered in almost all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, but Midwest City is the only town to do it at the municipal level, The Journal Record’s Christie Tapp reports:

Justus Skyler Cobbs gets up from a table after talking with his grandmother Debbie Chastain at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center , Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Lexington, Okla.
Sarah Phipps / The Oklahoman

Each morning, Justus Skyler Cobbs wakes up inside the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ mental health unit, housed inside Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma. Here, the 21-year-old receives regular mental health care. He says it is the best he has ever gotten. The reasons why he likes the care are simple.

"(They) sit down and listen to me. Actually let me talk. Tell them how I feel. They don’t pressure me into doing stuff or anything like that."

Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services commissioner Terri White discusses mid-year fiscal cuts on March 25, 2016.
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is the latest state agency to unveil details about how Oklahoma’s revenue failures will affect its bottom line.

The department announced during its March board meeting Friday morning it will trim an additional $13 million for the current fiscal year that ends June 30. That brings the total amount of cuts since January to $22.8 million, and ODMHSAS says more than 73,000 Oklahomans will notice the effects.

So what does that mean? Three things:

Former Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello
Oklahoma Labor Commission

A bill that could help people with mental illness stick to their treatment plans passed the state Senate Tuesday.

House Bill 1697 would allow doctors or family members to request court-assisted treatment for some people with mental illnesses.

The measure would only apply to adults who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness who are unlikely to survive safely in the community without intervention. They must have a history of noncompliance with treatment and been hospitalized twice in three years.  

Oklahoma Watch executive editor David Fritze, Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services commissioner Terri White, and Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Nico Gomez.
Patrick Roberts / KGOU

At the Oklahoma Watch-Out public forum last month, two prominent state health officials described the impact the state budget crisis and the oil-and-gas downturn could have on residents' physical and mental health.

As the Legislature prepares to assemble in February, the state’s two primary agencies that deal with health care for the impoverished and the mentally ill are bracing for cuts to services. At the same time, losses of jobs threaten to strain physical and emotional health for families at all income levels.

Left-to-right: David Fritze, Nicole Washington, Roxanne Hinther, Janet Cizek
Oklahoma Watch

Women in Oklahoma face often unique mental-health challenges in different life situations – whether incarcerated, suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, or dealing with severe anxiety as a professional or parent.

At an Oklahoma Watch-Out forum in Tulsa May 21, three experts talked about issues ranging from incarcerated women and trauma to postpartum depression and both the cultural and biological factors of mental health.

Verna Foust, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in Oklahoma City, said people with mild depression, anxiety and other problems are "falling through the cracks," not getting treatment.
Lindsay Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

Every year, thousands of Oklahomans with mental-health or addiction problems call or show up at state-funded treatment centers and get little or no care.

The message is: Until you get sicker, you will get minimal help from the state.

That’s because Oklahoma’s mental-health system relies on a “triage” approach that limits most subsidized treatment to the seriously ill.

Nearly a million Oklahomans suffer from mental illness or substance abuse so mental health facilities are using a triage approach to provide treatment.

A priority system that mandates the most severely ill get treatment while others wait.

Mental health providers say shrinking financial resources have forced such an approach to mental health care.

A decade-old beating haunted Nikki Frazier while she served time in prison.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

In her dorm at Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, anxiety attacks used to waken Nikki Frazier in the middle of the night. For about an hour she would sit on her bed, shaking, sweaty and nauseous.

“It would feel like I was having a heart attack,” Frazier said. “It was just a big ball of weight in my chest, and it was so bad.”

Frazier could point to one source of her anxiety: In 2005, she got into a dispute with her then-husband, and he kicked her repeatedly in the face with steel-toed boots, for which he was later convicted. Six years later, a doctor cited the beating in diagnosing Frazier with post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety and depression.

Serving a prison sentence for forging checks, Frazier suffered attacks for months until she was able to see a psychiatrist and get on a different medication. But she said she could never truly calm her anxiety until she was released in February. She gained control over her life and began receiving one-on-one counseling.

Frazier’s mental-health struggles reflect those of hundreds of women in Oklahoma prisons.

Oklahoma Women Suffer PTSD

Oklahoma Watch obtained detailed data on mental health diagnoses for men and women in prison from the state Department of Corrections and found dramatic differences in their conditions.

According to the data – a snapshot in late March – nearly 60 percent of female inmates show signs of mental illness, about twice the percentage of male inmates. A total of 3,104 women and 25,620 men were in the corrections system at the time.

Women also suffer disproportionately from depression – 64 percent versus 59 percent of men.

But the most striking difference occurs with trauma disorders. PTSD is the second most common mental illness among incarcerated women, with about one in five showing symptoms, or five times the rate for men.

When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio releases his executive budget tomorrow, it will include $54.4 million in new funding for mental health programs across the city. There’s also a promise that that number will increase to $78.3 million the following year.

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