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How bad is mental health in Tulsa? Study portrays 'alarming' statistics but offers hope

How bad is mental health in Tulsa? Study portrays ‘alarming’ statistics but offers hope

Tulsa Public Schools staff come across a suicide note nearly once a day from elementary or middle-school students, and Tulsans in the state’s public mental-health system die 27 years earlier on average than all Oklahomans.

Those “alarming” snapshots of Tulsa, where 1 in 7 people have a mental illness, are in a new study that illustrates the dire situation Oklahoma is mired in through disinvestment from and stigmatization of mental-health and substance-abuse care. Together those statistics — and many others in the report — underscore the need for preventative and early intervention services to achieve better outcomes at a lower cost.

A comprehensive study of the Tulsa region’s mental health care delivery system was unveiled Wednesday by the University of Tulsa and The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation.

The 91-page study identifies several disconcerting trends but offers five “action areas” to serve as a 10-year blueprint on how best to improve the Tulsa area’s mental health and wellness. The document also establishes measurable benchmarks toward achieving positive gains, saying Tulsa should be able to “create a culture of real and continuous mental health improvement” that builds on existing strengths.

In the report’s foreword, TU President Gerard Clancy laments that funding for prevention and early intervention of mental-health or addiction care services “does not come close” to other medical conditions. Mental health and addiction are “complex diseases of the brain,” he writes, and thus require much more than just psychopharmacology.

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