Improving the mental wellness of Oklahoma’s children — and ensuring families are equipped financially to give children a strong start — is key to strengthening the state’s future health outcomes, according to recommendations from an Oklahoma nonprofit.
The Oklahoma Academy, which is nonpartisan, held its annual town hall event in November, where participants from across the state focused on four areas of mental health to discuss and develop the recommendations: children and youth, community response, state-level engagement and resource management.
The nonprofit shared the town hall’s Top 5 priorities for Oklahoma at a news conference Tuesday. Among them are recommendations to:
Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn, who participated in the town hall and spoke Tuesday, said Oklahoma’s high rates of ACEs — potentially traumatic childhood events that can have drastic effects on a person’s future — underscore the importance of looking upstream for prevention of mental health issues.
“Before ACEs scores become a problem, let’s find the child that has just been born to a single mother, to a family in poverty, to someone that doesn’t have the luxury of family surrounding them and the wealth to do the things they need to,” Osborn said. “We must find those things so that we prevent the ACEs scores from occurring.”
The pandemic has put a spotlight on mental health and has especially impacted young people, said Carrie Slatton-Hodges, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, who also participated in the town hall.
“They’ve had to learn in an educational setting that seems to change almost daily,” she said. “Their experience of growing up is nothing like what other generations have experienced.”
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The town hall’s report, which can be read in full online, also recommends Oklahoma actively recruit more mental health professionals.
“People are not entering the field of mental health at the rate we need, they are not staying in the state at the rate we need, and they are not locating in the rural areas at the rate we need,” the report says.
Though the topic for the 2021 town hall was chosen in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it became all the more urgent with the impact of the virus on Oklahomans’ mental health, said Craig Knutson, the research chair for the event and president and CEO of the Potts Family Foundation.
“We had no idea how important this was really going to be,” he said. “A lot of the data we included … I think it’s probably going to worsen based on what we’re seeing.”
The nonprofit will advocate for the town hall’s recommendations during the legislative session and beyond, said Julie Knutson, the president and CEO of the Oklahoma Academy.
“If we have a healthy — mentally as well as physically — populace, this state can do so much better in every single area,” she said.
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‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort