Terri White, Oklahoma commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, visited Ada last week and presented alarming statistics concerning Oklahomans’ mental and physical health.
She said there is a connection between the two in many cases.
We don’t have very healthy pancreases, in terms of diabetes, and we don’t have very healthy parts, it’s really not surprising that our brains aren’t very healthy,” she said. “The diseases of mental illness and addiction are brain diseases. What would be really weird is if we had all these really unhealthy bodies and these bizarrely healthy brains and really low rates of mental illness and addiction.”
White said Oklahoma ranks near the bottom in general health.
“Oklahoma is not a very healthy state,” she said. “Typically we rank 48th or 49th in overall health, and that’s not a good thing. Just like we want to be number one in football, it’s pretty important that we want to be number one in health and we’re not close to that.”
White said improving one’s heath — which usually means a lifestyle change — is a must to improve mental health. She would like to see better funding for education and prevention and treatment of mental illness and addiction.
“The travesty is when you look at what we do in terms of prevention and treatment, we’re one of the lowest in the nation,” she said. “Oklahoma is 46th per capita in terms of funding, so compared to other states, we have some of the highest rates (of mental illness and substance abuse) but one of the lowest rates of resources.”
White said seeking good medical care is important in improving health.
“Exercise and diet and sleeping right do well for your heart and they do well for your brain as well,” she said. “So there is certainly an element of the self care, but also making sure you get your medical care.”
The Associated Press reported last week that Oklahoma leads the nation in the percentage increase in obesity rates over the past 15 years.
White said improving overall health, including brain health, could make a significant difference in Oklahoma.
“The fact is, unlike some situations that happen, you can recover from mental illness and addiction,” she said. “I’m sure we all know people or have people in our families who are in recovery and lead full, productive lives, whether they’re running companies or are policy makers or leading a community of faith or raising a family or whatever that may be.”