Fund­ing, stigma pose ma­jor men­tal health chal­lenges

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION - BY BRAN­DON PET­TIT Pet­tit is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NAMI Ok­la­homa (www.namiok­la­homan.org).

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.

Bran­don Pet­tit

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