Funding, stigma pose major mental health challenges
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has been forced to make a number of excruciating decisions due to a $75 million budget shortage. The shortfall is a result of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling in August overturning a $1.50-per-pack fee on cigarettes. The bill was estimated to generate over $200 million, which would have been allocated to ODMHSAS, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. The Legislature has been meeting in special session to address this budgetary crisis.
ODMHSAS announced cuts that will go into effect if the Legislature fails to reach an agreement. As of Dec. 1, the agency will only reimburse contracted providers for “meds and beds.” Essentially, outpatient mental health services will no longer be funded by the state.
The potential elimination of outpatient mental health services should alarm the citizens of Oklahoma. The cuts will have a negative impact on law enforcement, corrections, emergency rooms, child welfare, courts and other vital services. If the cuts do go into effect, these systems will become overburdened.
The proposed cuts target some of the most vulnerable individuals in Oklahoma. Outrage, anger and blame have ensued. These emotions are understandable and must be shared with your legislator. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of our elected officials to provide a solution to this problem and avoid devastating consequences.
Although voicing concerns to your legislator is important, it will take much more from all of us to improve the lives of Oklahomans living with a mental health condition. We, as Oklahomans, must make a sincere commitment to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health conditions in order to change harmful attitudes that continue to exist.
Stigma prevents those who need mental health treatment from taking steps to access care. In fact, less than half of the adults in the United States who need mental health treatment services get the help they need. The average delay between onset of mental health symptoms and intervention is eight to 10 years. Mental health treatment delays are detrimental, as research clearly shows that early intervention improves outcomes. Even more tragic are those cases in which individuals never engage in mental health treatment because of stigma and fail to receive the proven benefits of therapeutic intervention.
Stigma also contributes to a lack of parity on how mental health and other health-related issues are viewed by society. Insurance plans still do not cover certain mental health conditions, and if they do, reimbursement rates are lower than for other health conditions. As you consider the announcement made by ODMHSAS that the state would only fund “meds and beds,” realize that the equivalent would be only providing reimbursement for terminal illnesses and life-threatening injuries.
The mental health crisis facing our state is a multi-faceted problem that has been ignored for far too long. Action must be taken! Please share your concerns with your legislator, and do your part to eliminate the persistent stigma surrounding mental health conditions.