The Woodward News

March 11, 2014

White hits on mental health issues

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — The first Woodward Chamber luncheon of the year brought a nearly packed house as more than 120 crammed into the Pioneer Room to get a sneak peek at the production "The Music Man" and hear from Terri White, Oklahoma Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Newly promoted Red Cross Area Coordinator Mary Ann White also offered an update on her new position overseeing the entire Northwest Oklahoma region as well as a reminder that the local office needs volunteers.

"Also, the Red Cross fundraiser Friday night was really great and everyone enjoyed our dueling pianos," White said.

She also took a moment to recognize Bruce and Sheryl Benbrook as the recipients of the Red Cross Humanitarian Award.

"And finally, I want to say that in two years, Red Cross will be celebrating their 100th year of existence here," White said. "And that says a lot of this community, because it is supported totally by private dollars that come from this community."

In what turned out like the popular commercials that air during the Super Bowl; performers from the coming production by Woodward Civic Opera, "The Music Man," broke out unexpectedly in song and dance throughout the meeting.

The micro-performances included a barbershop quartet (Shawn Denney, Charlie Burns, Dave Wallace and Cody Amparan) singing "It's You" and soloist, Greg Nuse who sang "76 Trombones."

White offered some sobering facts about the overall health of Oklahomans.

At present, Oklahoma has the second highest rate of mental illness of all the states in the US, she said.

In Oklahoma, a youth is, on average, 12-years-old when they take their first drink and alcohol is still the number one substance adults and children are addicted to, she said.

Mental illness is the third leading chronic illness in Oklahoma and the state ranks 13th in the US for death by suicide.

"And yet we rank 45th in spending on treatment for mental illness and addiction," she said. "And with treatment, recovery can and does happen."

According to White, mental health and addiction in this state has traditionally been stigmatized as well as considered a weakness and not a disease.

"But mental illness and addiction is a disease just like diabetes and asthma," she said. "They just happen to be a disease of the brain."

White explained mental illness and addiction as a chemical imbalance just like diabetes is a chemical imbalance.

"And you wouldn't tell someone to just get over it, if they had diabetes or asthma, you would treat them," she said. "But the treatment gap is huge."

That is because programs started in years past are on the cutting table as a result of a nearly $21 million shortfall this year in the departmental budget.

That means in Woodward, there will be 3,439 adults who will need treatment for mental illness this year and only 768 will receive help, she said.

"And I am not talking about having a bad day, or you have lost someone and you are grieving, I am talking about a serious mental illness," she said.

The budget shortfall also means 465 children will need treatment for severe mental illness and only 189 will be able to be served.

That doesn't even include treatment for addiction for children and adults, she said.  The need for those services also outstrips the current ability for the department to keep up, White said.

"So that means 232 youth in Woodward needed treatment for substance abuse last year and 13 got treatment," she said. "Because every bed we have is full."

In the Woodward area, services are generally sought through Northwest Center for Behavioral Health just off Oklahoma, according to NCBH Executive Director Trudy Hoffman.

NCBH serves 13 counties and has more than 270 employees.

The services include outpatient appointments  in Alva, Enid, Fairview, Guymon and Woodward for both substance abuse, mental illness evaluation, group counseling, medication evaluation and individual counseling, among others, Hoffman said.

For those who need intensive treatment  for substance abuse in an inpatient facility,  the Lighthouse Substance Abuse Services program on Highway 270 south of Woodward is available but very often full, Hoffman said.

For acute care patients who need intensive inpatient treatment, the Northwest Center for Behavioral Health Acute Care Unit is located in Fort Supply. The facility has a 28 bed unit and meets the needs of high risk clients who might hurt themselves or someone else, Hoffman  said.

But those services are tapped out most of the time, according to White.

And the cost to the state for this treatment shortfall is significant, she said.

Employers spend millions paying for physical illnesses that stem from untreated mental illness. That doesn't even include the lost days of work, the increased incidence of workplace accidents and the increased demands on law enforcement, she said.

According to White, it costs $23,000 to incarcerate a non-violent offender for drugs and with drug court, it costs $5,000. Recidivism rates from drug court average less than 25 percent. Recidivism rates for incarceration average more than 50 percent, she said.

"There are people in this room, if you know the statistics, who are here living productive lives who received treatment so we know treatment works," White said.