NOTE: This is the first of four stories in our May is Mental Health Month #mytruth series. These stories provide a stark portrait of what life is really like for individuals and their loved ones. This campaign is also about focusing on the actions we can all take to make a difference.
On October 5, 2012, my wife, Veronica, was found dead in our front yard. She’d been stabbed in the heart by our son, Matt, who was in the throes of a mental health crisis and didn’t understand the reality of what he had done.
I will not play the “what if” game — it’s just too painful — but for a year or more, we’d noticed emotional and behavioral changes in Matt that we now know were caused by his bipolar disorder. Seeing these changes, I went with Matt to a health clinic in September of 2012 for help. Far too many Oklahomans who lack personal financial resources are desperately seeking timely mental health care for themselves or their loved ones. We’re just one example of a tragedy, which can be the result of untreated mental illness.
Our family did not have health insurance, so we were put on a three-month waiting list for care. This is the equivalent of going to the emergency room with chest pains and the doctor saying come back in 90 days. That would never happen for a heart patient, but it happens every day for people in mental health crisis who need immediate quality and appropriate treatment.
I’m sharing this story because when you see my truth — that breaking down the barriers to treatment can prevent mental illness from ever escalating into crisis — we can ensure access to care for those who need it most.
Matt had been spiraling down with mental illness and we simply did not know about it. My wife struggled with clinical depression her entire life, and we saw that in him, but that’s all we saw and were unaware of the extent of his disease. Eventually, though, we noticed some strange behaviors, so we started seeking care for him. We were told that he could be put on a waiting list for a November 20th appointment. We didn’t know what to do except to take him in November. We didn’t know the severity of his mental illness at that point, and he’d also been struggling with different things that he didn’t tell us about, like hour-long blackouts.
We had no insurance after my wife lost her job due to her depression and anxiety. Without insurance, there was no place we could turn, and they just put us on a waiting list. I always think, “What if better care was available immediately?”
After the Tragedy
People just don’t understand that Oklahomans like my son need treatment NOT waiting lines.
Our state spends among the least in the nation on our mental health system, but we have one of the highest rates of adults with serious mental illness in the country. If I had my way, mental health care in Oklahoma would be fully funded to the highest degree, and once we have that funding, we could eliminate waiting lines. When someone does have a psychotic break and there is a crisis, we deal with it immediately in treatment. My son had to wait until he was incarcerated to receive care.
I want you to understand that being impacted by mental illness is not a moral failing and is not someone’s fault. They are struggling with something that most of us can’t begin to understand.
We must break the stigma of mental illness and the only way to do that is to create awareness so that people can finally understand that we cannot accept the fact that monthslong waiting lines put individuals and families at risk of horrible tragedies — like the one I experienced.
What Should Access to Care Really Look Like?
Oklahoma simply does not have the resources to meet the great need that we have in our state. It is essential that we have resources that can respond to the immediate need for mental health treatment, which means intervening early enough to prevent mental illness from ever escalating into a crisis like the one that forever changed my family.
Monthslong waiting lines for a mental health evaluation are unacceptable. What is it going to take for our state to see this? My family is not alone. My truth — our truth — is that too many families have faced the same tragedy because there simply wasn’t enough access to quality and appropriate care when our loved one needed it most.
How many of us hide our story because we are ashamed? We must speak up. We must share and hope that one day lawmakers will ensure access to care for those in need so we can help:
- Prevent suicide;
- Reduce psychiatric hospital admissions and lengths of stay;
- Save taxpayers’ money;
- Reduce arrests;
- Increase utilization of case management services; and
- Improve consistent possession of appropriately prescribed medications.
This isn’t asking too much. This is what access to care really looks like.
It’s Time to Take Action
It’s time for you, me and everyone who believes in this cause to email our representatives at the Capitol and tell them we will no longer accept the fact that nearly a million adult Oklahomans need services, but most are not receiving the care they desperately need because there simply isn’t enough funding to make that possible.
Our message to the Capitol is this: Fully fund mental health in Oklahoma and change everything by ensuring access to quality mental health treatment when our loved ones need it the most.
Perhaps Cathy Costello, whose son killed her husband, Mark, while in a mental health crisis, summed it up best when she wrote, “No longer should there be only whispers shared of mental illness in sympathetic exchanges after tragedies. Instead, families have a right to share openly the victory of seeking and finding help for those they love, and the protection of others in that pursuit.”
Click the Take Action button to make your voice heard at the Capitol.
Give For May is Mental Health Month!
Our #mytruth campaign for May is Mental Health Month is an awareness campaign that focuses on some of the dire issues our state is facing. The Association is on the frontlines of working on solutions to these issues and we cannot do it without you. Sometimes it’s easy to read the numbers and know we aren’t doing enough for Oklahomans impacted by mental illness and homelessness, but it’s another when you hear the stories of people who face these challenges everyday. Maybe this is “your truth,” or the truth of someone you love. As a state we cannot fail our most vulnerable citizens. Your gift will continue to help us provide life-changing programs and services for people impacted by mental illness, suicide, homelessness and criminal justice.
WE CAN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE’S LIVES WITHOUT YOUR GENEROUS SUPPORT!