We’re also a state that believes in people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. In most cases, that’s a great way to approach things. But it has allowed for some misunderstanding about what mental illness and addiction are.
· Has the stigma of mental illness contributed to the problem?
The stigma around mental illness and addiction is what has allowed us to get to the point in Oklahoma where for so many years, for decades, we have not provided the resources needed to address these issues.
No one should feel shame for having a medical condition. When people show up at the emergency room because they’re having a heart attack or a stroke, we don’t make them feel ashamed. We really have got to get to the day when all Oklahomans understand these are diseases like any other diseases.
· Are there other causes?
We have incredibly high rates of trauma in Oklahoma… child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, the number of people that we have incarcerated… Those are huge contributors to whether someone is going to develop mental illness and addiction.
· What thoughts went through your head when you learned about the Sandy Hook shootings?
What tragedies like this bring to light is what the consequences can be when people don’t receive the help they need.
When mental illness and addictions are treated, people live full and productive lives. They have families. They run companies. They represent us as our elected officials … People with mental illness and addiction can do anything when they have treatment.
· Realistically, is there much policy-makers can do to address the problems that may have led to an incident like that?
Absolutely. That isn’t to say that there is a guarantee that a tragedy like this won’t ever occur again ... But we can certainly lessen the chances significantly.