Report Paints Sober Picture of Tulsa Region's Mental Health

Mar 28, 2018

Tulsa-area residents with mental illness or addiction die 27 years sooner than all Oklahomans, and local overdose and suicide rates are both about double the murder rate.

Additionally, one in seven adults has a mental illness, and one in 20 has a serious mental illness. Those statistics are from a new report on the region’s mental health care system. 

While Tulsa has effective services like outpatient care or jail diversion to keep people from becoming hospitalized for mental illness, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Terri White said more access is needed.

"About one out of three Tulsans get the help they need, so two out of three don’t. That doesn’t mean that we need to triple the number of inpatient beds, but it does mean that we need to triple the number of services available in our community," White said.

The region also has a dearth of public and private mental health beds, making it difficult even for those in crisis to get the care they need.

The report is the result of a study started in 2016 by the University of Tulsa Oxley College of Health Sciences, Urban Institute, and the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation.

TU President Dr. Gerry Clancy said a 10-year improvement plan included in the report will put children first.

"If you want to put a dent in those numbers as adults, we’ve really got to invest in the kids first and foremost with family stabilization and prevention of domestic violence and prevention of parents, as far as their drug abuse, because it has a huge impact on the kids, and then the kids are just set up to have a really, really rough life," Clancy said.

Goals for the 10-year plan include reducing the life expectancy gap between Tulsans with mental illness and other Oklahomans, decreasing suicide and overdose rates, lowering the share of Tulsans experiencing poor mental health, and cutting the costs of poorly treated mental illness.

The plan calls for increases in the region's mental health workforce, facilities and access to them, research, and funding.

Clancy said those are all doable if leaders are opportunistic — for example, seeking grants, participating in federal initiatives related to mental health and not leaving funding on the table.

"We are paying taxes into the federal system for Medicaid expansion in other states, and we’re not benefitting from that. And there’s a huge number of adults with mental illness that could be covered by Medicaid expansion," Clancy said.

The report says untreated mental illness costs Tulsa almost $400 million a year.