Mental Health

We Are Better Than That

We Are Better Than That - June 16, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

Most Americans, including me, don’t know how social media algorithms work or how posts from across the political spectrum show up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Like most red-blooded grandparents, what I really want to see is the latest photograph of any or all of my eleven grandchildren.

Nonetheless, last week up popped a message that said, “If you do not support our president, please find a country whose leader you do support and MOVE there.” My first thought was whether the poster had sent a similar message during the administration of the last president? Of course, the current political and societal division is not the first time that this sentiment has been vocalized. Those of us who are past our late fifties remember the “America Love It or Leave It” slogan from the Vietnam War era.

My next thought centered on why anyone would choose to promote a black/white, either/or false dichotomy in a country that is founded on equality and freedom of expression and freedom of ideas. Rather than urging citizens to relocate them and their families to another part of the world, we should be looking at the hundreds of concerns that unite us like a common desire to have better roads and better paying jobs. Those are issues that we should focus on collectively.

It makes sense that the more Oklahomans that are around the table the more likely the proposed solutions would be relevant and viable and it is incomprehensible that Oklahomans, of any political stripe, are not united on these issues:

Health Care and Health Outcomes. Oklahoma ranks second highest in the nation for its percent of uninsured citizens and fourth in the nation for its percentage of uninsured children. Nearly one in seven (545,000) Oklahomans are uninsured. That is 14.2% of our citizens according to the Oklahoma Hospital Association webpage. Consequently, Oklahoma hospitals provide more than $592 million in uncompensated care annually. The Governor and the Legislature should put aside partisan bickering and enact a legitimate solution to this situation.

Untreated Mental Health Issues. Oklahoma’s rate of mental illness is second in the nation. One in five Oklahomans (more than 630,000) is suffering from some form of mental illness. According to a 2014 Report in the Oklahoman, Oklahoma trails only West Virginia for the percentage of residents with a severe mental illness, and only Utah in the percentage of residents suffering from mental illness of any kind and with budget cuts over the past four years, the situation has gotten worse. Right now the only proposed solution is to reduce the uninsured rate by accepting federal dollars (like we do for about 40% of the state budget) through the initiative petition process.

It is time for Oklahomans to call upon all Oklahomans to bring all solutions to the table. Currently about 40% of the Oklahoma budget is made up of federal funds that pass through to agencies. Additional federal funding is available that will help both of these issues. Accepting federal funds at the rate of $9 for every $1 that would be invested by the state legislature is a win-win solution that addresses both physical and mental health outcomes. That is one solution. We should be all ears from any others regardless of party affiliation. What we cannot afford is divisive rhetoric that does not come with solutions. We are better than that.

Questions or comments, please call or write 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Where Do We Go From Here? - June 12, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

We know all about Charles Lindbergh and the pride that he brought to our country as an aviation pioneer. His non-stop 1927 transatlantic flight in the “Spirit of St. Louis” brought him world acclaim. But today, few recall the name of the mechanic who modified the fuel tanks on Lindbergh’s plane and lengthened the wings by more than 10 feet to increase lift.

This young mechanic, Douglas Corrigan, actually pulled the chocks away from the wheels of the Spirit of St. Louis when Lindberg departed San Diego for Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York, to begin his historic flight to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France.

While Charles Lindbergh went on to become a household name following his New York City ticker tape parade, it is a little known fact that 13 years later, an even larger New York City crowd attended a ticker tape parade for the mechanic whose own remarkable feat caught the imagination of a depressed American public.

Douglas Corrigan, whose nameless, ragtag jalopy of a plane prevented him from obtaining the Bureau of Commerce’s permission for his own transatlantic flight, became known as “Wrong Way Corrigan,” when in July 1938, he filed a flight plan west from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Long Beach, Calif., and promptly flew east to County Dublin, Ireland.

In many ways, Corrigan’s feat was more remarkable than Lindbergh’s. Lindbergh flew the finest plane that money could buy, while Corrigan flew in a patched and soldered plane with NO radio and only a 20-year-old compass. His door was tied shut with baling wire and he sat hunched forward surrounded by so many fuel tanks that he could not see in front of the plane. Many would call that “flying by the seat of his pants.”

Oklahoma’s version of “flying by the seat of its pants” is not doing so well.

Oklahoma policymakers are flying like they cannot see what is in front of them. They slash programs that are the only hope to break cycles of poverty and domestic abuse. They refuse to accept federal funding for mental health treatment and counseling and health coverage to improve the health of uninsured working Oklahomans.

Men and women who want to provide for their families and worry about putting food on the table have no access to health care and risk losing their jobs when they become sick. Consequently, they get so sick that they must use an emergency room because a simple shot or prescription will no longer cure them. That red ink is most of the $560 million in uncompensated care that Oklahoma hospitals suffered in 2014.

Wrong Way Corrigan’s navigational “errors” sent him in the wrong direction but gave America a laugh and raised its spirits. The damaging path that Oklahoma has taken is no laughing matter and puts virtually every vulnerable Oklahoman at risk. Oklahoma voters must demand leaders who will address these issues.

Questions and comments are welcome. David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Elwood P. Dowd

Elwood P. Dowd - May 1, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

Jimmy Stewart’s 1950 portrayal as Elwood P. Dowd featured a carefree and kind man whose best friend was Harvey, a six-foot, three-and-one half-inch rabbit. The movie was a humorous approach to mental illness, sanatoriums and the somewhat frightening methods of treatment available sixty-five years ago.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma has some of the highest rates for mental illness and substance abuse disorders in the country, and it is not a comedy. According to Terri White, Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Commissioner, Oklahoma is No. 2 in the nation in the number of adults struggling with mental illness.

Mental illnesses are often intertwined with other serious health issues such as obesity, smoking, alcoholism and other types of substance abuse. The stigma of mental illness has resulted in decades of untreated citizens and a consequential under allocation of resources.

In Oklahoma, more than one in five people (22.4%) are affected with some level of mental illness and nearly one in eight (11.9%) have substance abuse disorders at any given time. According to the website of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, only 195,000 of the between 700,000 and 950,000 Oklahomans who needed treatment actually received services in FY15.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that while the rest of the country spends $120.56 per capita to treat mental health disorders, Oklahoma is spending less than half that at $53.05 per capita. Decades of ignoring these needs means 6 out of 10 adults who need treatment do not receive it and consequently, Oklahoma’s incarceration rates are among the highest in the country, we have an exorbitant demand for foster care and our rate of adults reporting serious thoughts of suicide is 5th highest in the nation.

As Oklahoma’s economy worsens, demands for services rise. In February of this year, the front of the Journal Record carried the headline, “Someone’s Going to Get Hurt.” The article by Brian Brus observed the direct link between bad economic conditions, young unemployed males who lack parenting skills and the incidence of non-accidental trauma to infants and children. Sadly, economic downturns mean decreased tax revenue and cuts to social service programs just as the need for those programs escalates.

In a 2013 Oklahoma Watch interview, Commissioner White stated that her biggest worry was the treatment gap of hundreds seeking services every day and no resources available.

Commissioner White stated, “If the goal is to shrink government and spend less…put the dollars here. We can save you money in corrections, we can save you money in uncompensated health care, we can save you money in foster care. When mental illness and addictions are treated, people live full and productive lives. They have families. They run companies. They can do anything when they have treatment.”

The cost of treatment is less than $2900 per year while the cost of jail, prison or foster care is 7 to 10 times that amount as reported on the Department’s website in its FY2016 budget request.

Instead, budget cuts of $22.8 million have resulted in the loss of over $17 million in federal matching dollars. That $40 million dollar hole has directly affected the availability of services to more than 73,000 Oklahomans. Deeper cuts are expected next year.

The treatment sought for Elwood P.Dowd by his sister Veta, was not for his benefit, but so that his somewhat eccentric behavior would not interfere with her social status. When the stigma is gone, so is the shame. In the nick of time, Veta realized the true value of a kind, loving and carefree brother.

Awareness is the key. In 2005, the television shows Huff, Monk, Scrubs and ER, all won Voice Awards from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for their portrayal of people who manage mental health conditions.

Mark Twain’s observation that a jail is needed every time we close a school is equally applicable when we refuse to properly fund treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.

Questions and comments are welcome. David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

What About the Ladybugs?

What About the Ladybugs? - April 17, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

Summer nights in rural Oklahoma were the best. Neighbors would come to our house or we would go to theirs for our parents to play “cards.” Cards meant a game called Pitch. The deck contained a Big Joker and a Little Joker. Players bid to “Shoot the Moon” and hoped to catch “High, Low, Jack and the Game.”

The kids played outside until long after dark, kicking balls, catching lightning bugs and eating parched peanuts. There was absolutely nothing more fun that catching lightning bugs and no better smell or taste than freshly parched peanuts in the shell straight from the oven.

During the summer week or two that I was allowed to stay in town with my grandmother I had a different experience. The country had nothing like the fog truck that the city would run up and down the alleys spewing a thick cloud of smoke that blanketed everything, including us. Some kids would chase the truck for blocks but we just let the opaque fog of unnamed insecticide envelope us as we played in the backyard at dusk.

Was that a proper function of government? Considering the encephalitis dangers of that era and a number of outbreaks involving the transmission between some horses and humans and some birds and humans, I believe that it was very important that the government involved itself in mosquito control even though that was decades before we had heard of viruses like West Nile virus or Zika.

Today, the government is working on developing genetically engineered mosquitos with a goal of eradication of the current Zika threat. Is that a function of government? Some would say no.

However in the 1950’s the federal government undertook a similar challenge and ended up eradicating screwworms in livestock by releasing irradiated sterile screwworm flies. Success was realized when the last reported case of screwworms in the United States was reported in 1982, saving the farmers and ranchers literally hundreds of millions of dollars. Was that a function of government? The agriculture industry believes that it was.

Some people would say that there are only one or two true functions of government. Everyone considers our military to fit into that category. Most would include a roads, bridges and highways.

According to Oklahoma State Department of Health statistics, 22.4% of all Oklahomans suffer from some form of mental health disorder, 3rd highest in the country and 11.9% of all Oklahomans are substance abusers, 2nd highest in the country.

Oklahomans affected by mental health and substance abuse are at catastrophic levels and the debilitating impact on Oklahoma is likely greater that the risk of those affected by mosquito-born diseases.

Oklahoma would not think twice about encouraging federal funds to be used to help protect us from insects and the dangers presented by them, but refuses to accept federal funding available for the treatment of issues that make individual Oklahomans dysfunctional and non-productive. As a result, our citizens go untreated and Oklahoma prisons remain overcrowded.

In the 1960’s the fog controlled mosquitos and killed ladybugs at the same time. Thank goodness the federal government has a program to release ladybugs to control the aphid population…and the list goes on.

Questions and comments are welcome. David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.