Why it matters: According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, suicide is the most common type of violent death in the U.S. and Oklahoma. More than 32,000 people in the U.S. and 500 people in Oklahoma kill themselves each year.
When speaking to mental health professionals, a common theme tends to emerge: Mental illness doesn’t happen overnight. If untreated, the consequences can be dire, both to the individual and the family involved.
Like any other illness, rarely does the problem go away on its own. Often it festers into a crisis and can lead to numerous negative outcomes, including suicide.
“With addiction you have a lot of co-occurring disorders, a lot of depression and mental illness,” Kevin Bone, executive director, Arbuckle Life Solutions, Inc., said. “A lot of times people do struggle with thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, in our community and nationwide, we have a problem with suicide.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one out of every five adults will suffer from some form of mental illness in 2016. One out of every 25 will suffer from a severe mental illness in a given year, while one out of every five youth, age 13-18, will suffer from a severe mental illness in their life. More than half of adults who suffer from addiction and substance abuse also have co-occurring mental health issues.
“With people who have a background of trauma, or a family history of mental health and addictions, you see people struggle more with thoughts of suicide,” Bone said.
Arbuckle Life Solutions, Inc., serves 1,600-2,000 people annually, though mainly focuses on substance abuse and addiction services.
“If they are coming in here and we catch it, there is a pretty serious problem,” Bone said. “These things manifest over time.”
Ardmore’s crisis center for individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts is located near Mercy Hospital-Ardmore.
“If people are having a crisis, considering suicide, they can go to the emergency room at Mercy and they will get them to us,” Jessica Pfau, executive director, Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma, said. “If long-term care is necessary, they can be admitted to inpatient services for up to 30 days.”
Pfau said Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma covers nine counties with six clinics, which include locations in Ardmore, Durant, Ada, Tishomingo, Seminole and Pauls Valley. More than 6,000 individuals were served in 2015 (may include multiple visits), yet there were only 2,429 clients in Carter County out of the estimated 7,418 suffering from mental illness sought treatment locally.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Pfau said. “In 2014, more than 44,000 people in Bryant County were diagnosed with a mental health illness, yet only 2,300 were served in Durant. There is currently a huge need for services, but a lack of service.”
According to countyhealthrankings.org, rural Southern Oklahoma ranks lowest in the state for access to care, while Oklahoma ranks near the bottom in the nation for access.
“We are really struggling, as a state, to provide those that need it the care they need,” Pfau said. “Mental illness is a disease. If you don’t get it cured you put your work at risk and you put your family at risk.
Pfau stressed the importance of recognizing the signs of mental illness, admitting to the problem and seeking help.
“At minimal, we need to get the information out there,” she said. “If they can’t get counseling, they can at least get the information they need.”
According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections 2013 Annual Report, out of 26,539 inmates, the DOC estimated that 55 percent (14,625) of all offenders had a history of or current symptoms of a mental illness. Of that, 75 percent of female inmates and 53 percent of male inmates had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
“The police are, unfortunately, the first line of defense,” Pfau said. “They are usually the first professionals to interact with someone suffering from a crisis.”
Steps are currently being taken at the state level to address incarceration of individuals suffering from mental illness.
One such measure, House Bill 2595, was signed into law on Wednesday. HB 2595 grants courts authority to consider Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a mitigating factor when sentencing.
“The Governor (Mary Fallin) has an initiative underway to reach out to veterans and their families,” Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer and co-sponsor of HB 2529, said. “PTSD doesn’t just affect the veteran but it also affects the whole family.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, or one every 65 minutes.
“Veterans will often try to self-medicate to deal with the problems they experience with the PTSD,” Simpson said. “Anything they do to weather the storm affects their family, as well.”
According to the VA, after adjusting for differences in age and gender, risk for suicide was 21 percent higher among veterans when compared to U.S. civilian adults.
“This came out of work we were doing with the Department of Corrections,” Simpson said. “We were shocked to see how many vets were in DOC custody that were honorably discharged from the service. Their incarceration ends up being the result of self-medicating and trying to deal with the issues coming from PTSD.”
Anyone suffering from the symptoms of mental illness or having thoughts of suicide are encouraged to call the Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma’s crisis hotline at (580)798-4523.