Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the country.
So, when Oklahomans narrowly voted to expand Medicaid last week, newly named Mental Health Association Oklahoma CEO Terri White said it's good news for the some 97,000 uninsured Oklahomans currently struggling with a mental health diagnosis.
"When you don't have health coverage and you're struggling with a disease and can't access care, or have to wait until there's a crisis and access the state safety net, that disease will progress," the former commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said. "When diseases progress, we know the prognosis is not as good."
White said in addition to more people currently in need being able to access mental health treatment, expanding Medicaid will allow MHAOK to provide preventative services to those with early symptoms and intervene so mental illness doesn’t have to be a lifelong struggle for high risk individuals.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a precarious time for those struggling with mental illnesses. White said the isolation and economic downturn induced by coronavirus lockdowns are particularly problematic.
"One of the reasons that MHAOK has stepped up to create online support groups and virtual support groups so that people can connect during this time. We also know that in times of stress and economic downturn - which is exactly what we’re going through in terms of the pandemic right now - that can exacerbate symptoms of mental health or relapse in terms of addiction."
White said now is an important time for Oklahoman’s struggling with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illnesses to seek out help. More information is available online at MHAOK.org.