Mental Health Association Oklahoma is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and achieving victory over mental illness through advocacy, education, research, service and housing.
Mental Health Association Oklahoma envisions a just, humane and healthy society in which all people are accorded respect, dignity and the opportunity to achieve their full potential, free from stigma and prejudice.
How It All Began
We trace our roots to the early part of the 20th century, when the father of the mental health movement in America, Clifford Beers, helped form the National Mental Health Association in 1909.
The rallying symbol of the mental health movement is a bell. The symbol replicates a 300-pound bell that was cast from the shackles and chains once used to restrain people with mental illnesses within the walls of psychiatric institutions. The inscription on the bell reads: “Cast from the shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.” Since the mid-1950s, we have worked to achieve this goal here in Oklahoma.
In 1955 local advocates formed Mental Health Association Oklahoma (originally known as the Tulsa County Mental Health Council). We have been certified as an affiliate of the National Mental Health Association continuously since our inception. In 1958 we became a member of the Tulsa Area United Way. In 2014, soon after the Association expanded to become a statewide agency, we became a partner agency of the United Way of Central Oklahoma.
Where We Are Today
The Association continues to grow and expand as a statewide agency advocating for Oklahomans impacted by mental illness and homelessness.
We are dedicated to promoting mental health and the equity of access to mental health care through advocacy, education, research, service, and housing. The Association currently owns and manages 1,469 units of affordable housing in Tulsa and 72 units in Oklahoma City.
Our programs include housing, mental health education, support groups, pro bono counseling, mental health screening and referral, suicide prevention, peer-to-peer recovery services, employment readiness, community health and wellness initiatives, and criminal justice advocacy. Our housing program utilizes a Housing First model that provides immediate access to safe, decent, and affordable housing for individuals impacted by mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse, and criminal histories. While fragmented systems of care struggle to meet the complex needs of these individuals, our mission is designed to greatly reduce barriers to accessing affordable housing and mental health care in one collective effort. We believe our housing program and wrap-around services position us to begin meeting the mental health care needs of the most vulnerable members of our community.
For more than 60 years, we have worked toward this goal. We have fought for essential access to community-based services. We have stood side-by-side in the face of tragedy and despair. We have leaned on each other through support groups and pro bono counseling services.
Together, we have watched individuals overcome incredible hardships to flourish, grow and succeed.
Want to learn more about the Association? Call us at 918.585.1213 or 405.943.3700. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To truly understand where the Association came from and where we are going, check out this timeline that explains how we have built a history working alongside advocates to promote recovery for people with serious mental illness.
This Is Our Story
The Movement Begins
Clifford Beers sparked the mental health reform movement with an insightful autobiography, “A Mind That Found Itself,” which chronicled his struggle with mental illness and the shameful conditions he and millions of others endured in mental institutions throughout the country. He declared “I must fight in the open!” to respond to those critics who suggested he start the movement anonymously. Over 100 years later, his legacy still guides the Association’s mission.
Mrs. Ernest Rector led a group of volunteers to charter our organization, then known as the Tulsa County Association for Mental Health. The same year, the Association became an affiliate of the National Mental Health Association.
The First Programs
Early in the Association’s history, our volunteers helped develop a diagnostic manual. They also gave rise to various support groups that provided help for depression and suicide prevention. The volunteers added the human touch for former patients of Eastern State Hospital by hosting social clubs, celebrating their birthdays and holidays, and simply becoming their friends. Their efforts evolved into Crossroads, which was the first community support program in Oklahoma. The Association also offered a suicide prevention hotline, a teen crisis hotline, and advocacy for the development of a community crisis unit, where patients could be evaluated rather than being held in jail. Today, we offer a statewide Community Referral Line where we work closely with individuals to help them get connected to the services they need in the community. People can access this line by simply calling 918.585.1213 and 405.943.3700.
Taking a Stand
To symbolize its mission of change, Mental Health America commissioned the casting of the Mental Health Bell from chains and shackles that restrained people with mental illnesses in decades past. Over the years, national mental health leaders and other prominent individuals have rung the bell to mark the continued progress in the fight for victory over mental illnesses.
United We stand
The Association joined the Tulsa Community Chest (later known as Tulsa Area United Way) and hired its first executive director, Frank Gray. Today, the Association is proud to be a member of both the Tulsa Area United Way and the United Way of Central Oklahoma.
Putting on the MHAT
The Association changed its name from Tulsa County Association for Mental Health to Mental Health Association in Tulsa.
Free Support Groups
The support group, Families in Touch, was founded. Support groups were still rather new at this time. Today, we offer free support groups in Tulsa and Oklahoma City for people impacted by mental illness and their loved ones.
Tulsa’s Largest Garage Sale
We launched Tulsa’s Largest Garage Sale at Expo Square. Until the Association hosted its last garage sale in 2002, we offered booth rental space to other nonprofits to raise money for their own organization.
The Beginning of Housing
The Association’s executive director, Judy Leaver, was joined by Judy Haney at a major housing conference in Florida to learn about a full continuum of housing options that inspired them to bring this innovative model to Tulsa.
The Dream Team
After the United Way provided funding to establish our housing program, the Association formed its Housing Development Task Force to determine a strategy for developing safe, decent and affordable housing for people impacted by mental illness and homelessness. This group still leads our housing decisions today.
The Best Party in Town Begins!
Carnivale, which is the Association’s largest annual fundraiser, began as Le Masquerade. Since the inaugural gala, Carnivale has earned its reputation as “the best party in town” and continues to support our housing and services.
Our Housing Visionary
The late Bill Packard, the visionary of our housing program, successfully obtained the Association’s first Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant for $483,000. He changed Tulsa and Oklahoma. He was a visionary teacher and mentor.
The SunBridge program offered by Mental Health Association of Central Oklahoma began offering free or low-cost counseling services in Oklahoma City, and the Association later offered the similar BrightSky program in Tulsa. Today we have pro bono counselors statewide who help the many people who fall in the gap and cannot afford counseling. Many people get connected to this program through our statewide Community Referral Line, and it remains one of the few programs of its kind.
Walker Hall Opens
With HUD money, and proceeds from our first gala, the Association was able to operate its first housing property, our 12-bed Walker Hall Transitional Living Center located at 17th and Baltimore. At the grand opening on September 16, 1991, Bill Packard stressed the need for additional housing. Since then, the growth of our housing has never stopped.
Our Fearless Leader
Michael W. Brose became the Association’s executive director. When he started there were only five people at that time, today we have more than 180 staff members in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Providing State-of-the-art Professional Education to Oklahoma
The inaugural Zarrow Mental Health Symposium “The Many Faces of Mental Illness” educated approximately 150 attendees in Oklahoma. Since then, the Symposium has become among the best behavioral health conferences in the region. Over the years, we have presented three national conferences, including the 2016 National Zarrow Mental Health Symposium — Ready for Zero: Innovative Solutions for Housing and Recovery.
Treatment Rather Than Jail Cells
The Association created a Jail Diversion Task Force, a joint community effort to divert people impacted by mental illness from incarceration for nonviolent crimes. Today, the Association plays a key role in the Special Services Docket, established in 2014 as a partnership between the Tulsa City Municipal Court, the Association and other local non-profits. This groundbreaking docket uses the leverage of the court to help participants connect with services. In exchange for their participation, fines and court cost are dismissed, and they are kept out of jail. We remain one of the most vocal advocates for criminal justice reform across the state.
Addressing Suicide Prevention in Youth
After a cluster of three teen suicides at one school over a 45-day period, the Association partnered with schools, faith communities, and concerned citizens to form the Adolescent Suicide Prevention Task Force. In the aftermath of the tragedy, we began offering our suicide prevention programs, TeenScreen and SafeTeam. TeenScreen was also offered in Oklahoma City by Mental Health Association of Central Oklahoma at the time, and we continue to offer it today in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Equal Coverage for Mental Illness
The Oklahoma Legislature passed what’s known as a “partial parity” law, requiring insurers to provide coverage for severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Maxine and Jack Zarrow, along with John Sullivan, played pivotal roles in the passing of this bill. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act defined mental health and substance abuse treatment as one of 10 essential benefits. Now, health insurance plans must provide equal coverage for mental illness, reversing years of discrimination.
Recovery Services is Born
Creating Connections became our first Recovery Services program. In Oklahoma City and Tulsa, our no-cost Creating Connections program empowers participants to engage in community life and enjoy fun outings using a recovery support model for social inclusion. Each month, participants get together to socialize during fun outings, like seeing movies and taking trips to the lake, zoo and aquarium.