Mental health like any other illness

Oklahoma ranks 48th nationwide for the number of adults suffering with mental illness and access to care. Substance Abuse Commissioner Terri White said  the only state with a higher proportion of mentally ill people is Utah and the only state with more serious mental illness is West Virginia.

Twenty-two percent Of Oklahomans have a mental illness, 5.24 percent have a serious mental illness such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, and 70 percent of all mentally ill people in Oklahoma go untreated.

According to Executive Director Traci Cook of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it can take up to three months to get an appointment with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist —  and Oklahoma is actually decreasing the number of available psychiatric beds. In addition, the state government has refused federal health care dollars so it is not surprising that Oklahoma has problems with prescription drug abuse, smoking and narcotic abuse, rivaling West Virginia in painkiller overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In one CDC study, it was found that roughly 75 percent of adults believe people with mental conditions receive sympathy and care from society. Only 25 percent of people with a mental illness who were asked the same question agree with that statement.

In the same study, Oklahomans actually ranked near the top for responses on how valuable mental health care is, so one could argue the issue is largely systemic, and that it is indeed a real challenge for people to get the help they need.

At OCCC, students have free and confidential access to licensed mental health counselors Jenna Howard and Janey Wheeler. They can quickly see students who are in the throes of a personal crisis.  If long term help is needed, they can make a referral.

However, others in the state can’t get free mental health care and, for those with no insurance, the cost is prohibitive.

Many people don’t even realize they have a mental illness as it is a poorly understood topic. Others suspect it but don’t want to admit it to themselves or discuss it with anyone out of fear they will be judged.

Just know if it feels like you cannot push yourself to do things or stay organized, with the urge to be wherever you’re not, you may have ADHD, which is well understood and treatable.

If you often feel tense, overly conscious, if sometimes you start to feel panicked, and your chest gets tight, you might have an anxiety disorder, very treatable.

If you think about killing yourself or believe other people would be happier without you, those thoughts likely stem from major depressive disorder — also treatable.

Psychiatry and psychology are not bunk, scams, or hooey. It is medicine, and you can access it. The current situation will not improve as long as people refuse to understand or admit there is a problem.

If you have a heart problem, you see a cardiologist. If your brain is working against you, see a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Student Support Services is a good start.

To contact Grant Swalwell, email

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