The University of Tulsa in partnership with the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation recently released new statistics on the status of mental health care in Tulsa. Initial findings indicate that 1 in 7 Tulsa residents struggle with a mental illness, and those living with mental illness and/or addiction die 27 years earlier than other Oklahoma residents.
The latest Tulsa mental health data was gathered by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Urban Institute from September 2016 to February 2018. The research along with details on a new 10-year plan to improve mental health and the mental healthcare system are outlined in a 91-page report compiled by the Urban Institute and funded by the Zarrow Foundation. The Tulsa Mental Health Plan is directed by TU and a 17-member steering committee featuring mental healthcare professionals, philanthropists and community leaders. The initiative partnered with the Urban Institute to study Tulsa mental healthcare needs and resources while also identifying inefficiencies and recommending methods of improvement.
Among the report’s key findings, data revealed mental illness is a major driver of poor health and low life expectancy in the region, children are at an increasing risk of mental illness and Tulsa’s system of care for mental health and substance use is fragmented, uncoordinated and dominated by costly and ineffective responses. Many of these issues are the result of inadequate funding and support for mental health services.
TU President Gerard Clancy, a renowned psychiatrist, has been one of Tulsa’s leading advocates of mental health awareness and treatment. As a university president, respected healthcare provider and active Tulsa citizen, he plans to continue fighting for prevention, intervention and direct care for those who suffer from mental illness and brain disease. TU also works closely with the Laureate Center for Brain Research on neuroscience and neuropsychiatric studies to improve the lives of residents. The True Blue Neighbors Behavioral Health Clinic is another valuable resource for the city’s population that is facilitated by TU health professionals and specialists.
“This is something that affects everyone, and there’s a lack of understanding that mental illness is a physical brain illness,” Clancy said.
Despite Tulsa’s poor mental health status, many local public, private and nonprofit collaborations as well as higher education and healthcare institutions are poised to invest in improvement. The Tulsa Mental Health Plan initiative’s first phase of action includes four main goals to 1) close the gap in life expectancy between Tulsans living with mental illness and all Oklahomans; 2) lower the rates of suicide attempts and overdoses, and deaths from both causes; 3) lower the share of Tulsans who experience poor mental health; and 4) reduce criminal justice system, first responder and hospital emergency room costs caused by untreated or poorly treated mental illness. Clancy said the plan will prioritize children and youth as well as Tulsans with serious mental illness and addiction. According to the report, half of all mental illnesses appear by age 14. In 2018, Mental Health America ranked Oklahoma No. 45 out of all states for access to care for mentally ill youth.
“An efficient workforce, in-depth policy research, smart financing and adequate physical space will increase our chances of success,” Clancy said. “With these resources, we’ll be able to scale up effective programs, integrate services and bolster community initiatives to take care of each other.”