- Ada, Oklahoma

August 30, 2013

Health professionals: More can be done to protect children

Art Lawler Staff Writer

Ada — The Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities heard from some of the state's leading childhood professionals Thursday during a summit at the Chickasaw Community Center.

The gathering included a tour of the Chickasaw Nation Child Development facilities which serve as one of the models of what professionals are trying to build in south-central Oklahoma to assure young people get off to a good start in life.

Oklahoma is the 14th worst state in the U.S. for child care services, and the group on hand Thursday is clearly asking the state’s movers and shakers to help children from becoming political victims in an era of tough economics.

Terri L. White, MSW, commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, gave an impassioned speech to a group that included business and political leaders as well as professionals working daily on behalf of children.

White’s talk was both alarming and encouraging.

She said she thinks mental health and substance abuse problems can be successfully dealt with but only though greater effort by those who have the power to make it happen.

Keynote speaker Dr. Robert Block, Immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, echoed White’s statements and stressed the need for changing the designation “mental illness” to “brain illness” to help eradicate the unwarranted but nevertheless prevalent social stigma about the disease.

“It’s like heart disease, or any other kind of disease,” he said, asking the audience to imagine going in for a heart attack and being told it’s all your fault — and then not receiving services.

White gave a PowerPoint presentation showing pictures of a normal brain, one with bipolar disorder, one with obsessive control disorder and one with depression.

All four pictures showed dramatic differences, as a scan would show diseases of the heart.

Mental illness, Block pointed out, has its basis in biology like other diseases.

White had more pictures showing the dramatic differences between a healthy brain and one suffering from cocaine abuse.

“Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of the underlying organ,” she said. “They have seriously harmful consequences.” They are preventable and treatable, she said.

Left untreated, illnesses of the brain can last a lifetime.

In Oklahoma, brain disorders are the third leading cause of chronic disease, trailing only pulmonary conditions and hypertension.

 Other facts presented by White included:

 • Oklahoma consistently has among the highest ranking of mental illness in the nation;

 • more than 245,000 Oklahomans above the age of 12 abuse, or are, dependent on alcohol or illicit drugs;

 • inderage purchasers of alcohol account for just over 20 percent of all alcohol sold in the state.

  Deaths due to suicide are increasing in this state, rising from 567 in 2009 ito 618 in 2010. Where does Oklahoma rank nationally in suicides?


One in five young people in Oklahoma have one or more mental, emotional or behavioral disorders at any given time.

Between 1 and 3 percent of Oklahomans are problem or compulsive gamblers in need of intervention. Small children suffer the consequences.

Half of all mental illnesses occur by age 14 and three-fourths of such illnesses are discovered by the age 24.

The median age onset for anxiety disorders and/or impulse-control disorders is age 11.

The good news is that preventive interventions are available if people will take advantage of them.

Nearly 40 percent of Oklahoma high school students in grades 9-12 are drinking. One of every 10 persons, White said, will have the gene that causes serious problems when they drink.

Seventy-four percent of high school seniors have used alcohol.

A person's brain continues to mature into his mid-20s, and alcohol impedes the development of the prefrontal cortex, White said. This can result in a young person becoming more impulsive. “It’s the decision-making area of the brain and it influences the brain to make poor decisions, exercise poor judgement and prevent the person to think as well as others."

According to these studies, parents would do well to know that adverse childhood experiences can cause trauma to kids under 18 — events like recurring physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse and alcohol.

Time factors do not heal such experiences, but White reported that treatment works. More than 80,000 Oklahomans took advantage of treatment services and improved, according to the latest numbers available.

She said families are reunited, employment prospects and monthly income improve with treatment.

Oklahoma is a national leader in systems of care. Significant achievements in a child’s behavior when measuring outcomes have been reported

Out of home placements dropped by 30 percent and school detentions reduced by 53 percent after intervention.

Self-harm attempts dropped 39 percent and arrests were reduced by 48 percent.

The state can provide services to target substance use or aggressive behavior problems. It can teach parenting skills, improve communication and help families deal with disruptions (such as divorce) or adversities (such as parental mental illness or poverty).  

It is predicted that by 2020, mental health problems (particularly depression) will become the leading cause of work disability. Oklahoma ranks among the highest in the nation in the number of reported poor mental health days. The estimated 200,000 Oklahoma workers who are dealing with depression and addiction cost employers an extra $460 million annually in medical expenses.

Sen. Susan Paddack, District 13, urged those in the audience to contact their legislators about those numbers and suggested legislators need to hear what White and Block had to report.

White said managers and supervisors at work are generally unable to recognize and offer solutions to employees non-work-related problems.

Therefore, it's to the employer's advantage to keep their staffs emotionally healthy by ensuring employees have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and assuring all employees that no stigma or penalty will be incurred by those who take advantage of it to become more efficient employees.

The Labor Department reports EAPS reduce sick leave usage by 33 percent; work-related accidents by 65 percent and workers' compensation claims by 30 percent. Grievances dropped 79 percent.

Block had a question for business and medical officials who want to save money by cutting a lot of the programs mentioned here.

“Who the hell do they think is going to pay for these services when they show up in the emergency room with no money and no insurance? It’s a whole lot cheaper,” he said, to take preventive steps before having to fix the problem after the fact.

Paddack; Brit Messer, CEO at McCurtain Memorial Hospita; Dr. Waymon Hinson, Chickasaw Nation Division of Youth and Family Associate Administrator; Dr. Sheila Aldrich, Chickasaw Nation Medical Center Pediatrician, all served on a panel discussion about problems and solutions.

Debra Anderson of Smart Start Oklahoma introduced the panel's facilitator, Dr. Marny Dunlap, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Associate Professor of Pediatrics.

Pat Potts, the Potts Family Foundation president, and Cheryl Bell of the OKCEO/Smart Start Inititative Executive Director, also spoke.

Tom John, Chickasaw Nation Undersecretary of Community Services, made opening remarks and Chuck Mills, president of Mills Machine Company, introduced the keynote speaker.