The Norman Transcript

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February 17, 2013

State ranks high in mental illness, addiction

NORMAN — It’s no secret that Oklahoma consistently ranks near the bottom in state surveys of physical health indicators such as obesity, diabetes and smoking. It’s less well known that Oklahoma also has some of the highest rates of mental illness and addiction.

Gov. Mary Fallin cited those statistics and the Sandy Hook massacre when she asked lawmakers to provide a $16 million funding boost next year to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services headed by Commissioner Terri White.

If the Legislature adopts Fallin’s plan, White’s department will use the added funding to open a new mental health crisis center, target prescription drug abuse, launch suicide prevention programs and expand counseling for disturbed children and their families.

In an interview with Oklahoma Watch’s Warren Vieth, White explains why Oklahomans report more mental illness and addiction problems than residents of other states. She discusses what the state can do to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook and why she thinks her agency deserves a bigger slice of the state budget.

White, 39, is an Edmond native who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Oklahoma. A former fiscal and policy analyst for the Oklahoma Senate, she has headed the mental health department since 2007.

· How prevalent are mental health problems in Oklahoma?

We’re No. 2 in the nation in the number of adults struggling with mental illness. A lot of people are surprised when they hear that.

Think about our overall health rankings, though … We have high rates of all diseases in Oklahoma. So it’s not surprising that we have high rates of mental illness and addiction.

The brain is simply another organ in the body. When you’re in a very unhealthy state, when your population is unhealthy and has high rates of diseases, of course you’re going to have high rates of brain diseases as well.

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