Legislators launch mental health forum

  • mental health forum

OKLAHOMA CITY – Twenty-eight members of the Oklahoma Legislature recently formed a bipartisan, bicameral caucus to serve as a forum for legislators to discuss solutions to the state’s ongoing mental health and addiction crisis.

Founding members include Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan; Sen. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika; and Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton.

The caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Josh West, R-Grove, and Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, will convene monthly during the legislative session to stay informed about key mental health issues and to discuss ideas for improving care and systems in Oklahoma.

“Mental health and addiction are bipartisan issues that affect every Oklahoman in some way,” West said in a news release. “No matter your background or politics, whether you’re rural or urban, you’ve seen the devastating impacts of untreated mental health and addiction. So many of us have seen it in our own families or communities. This issue can and should unite us all.”

“It’s so important that we come together now, at the height of this crisis,” Kirt said. “With the stress and hardship of the global pandemic, mental health and addiction issues have grown to levels we’ve never seen as a state. This impacts every issue we deal with at the Capitol, from education to health and criminal justice.”

One in five Oklahomans had a mental health condition prior to COVID-19, according to the legislators. Now an estimated 40% of Oklahomans experience anxiety and depression, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Oklahoma opioid overdoses have increased by more than 50% in the last 12 months.

Due to an increase in the trauma associated with adverse childhood experiences, the risk of childhood mental health conditions also has elevated.

Untreated mental illness and addiction lead to increasing costs for government and the private sector, less economic growth, and poorer educational and health outcomes. Nearly 60% of Oklahomans in need of treatment last year did not receive it, according to Mental Health America.

This year the Legislature will consider several bills and financial issues that will shape the future of mental health care, including agency funding, Medicaid changes, telehealth and mental health parity, law enforcement and first responder supports, and school-based services. This caucus will discuss key ideas with access to available data, national best practices and state experts.