Navigating mental health needs during critical health worker shortage
TPD, Mental Health Association working to better assist folks with mental illness (KTUL)

Patients are navigating mental health challenges as the industry grapples with not enough mental health professionals in Oklahoma.

"There is such a demand for mental health services and there just isn't enough to be able to go around to our community," said Lucinda Morte, clinical coordinator of the Mental Health Assistance Center for the Mental Health Association Oklahoma.

Three in 10 high school students say they have poor mental health most or all of the time, according to a study by the CDC.

In Oklahoma, only six out of 77 counties have child psychiatrists to help, according to the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative

Families are looking for behavioral and mental health treatment, but are met with long wait lists and little to no options as demand for the services increases.

"We've had steady increases month over month, year over year, in the people reaching out to us for services," said Josh Cantwell, chief operating officer for Grand Lake Mental Health Center.

Cantwell said, with strangeness of the pandemic, those on the verge of seeking out help actually made the call.

"It's important that we provide these services for the people of Oklahoma," said Jeff Dismukes, director of communications for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. "We help make families well and make them whole."

A crippling worker shortage is driving change in the industry, though, with mental health providers prioritizing their own needs.

"If we can't take care of ourselves, how in the world are we going to be able to take care of our clients? I mean, we can't pour from an empty cup," said Morte.

"We've had to be more creative with our staffing patterns and trying to motivate more people to come in," said Cantwell.

At Cantwell's clinic, workers get every other Friday off to focus on their mental health.

"We believe that that is going to increase our ability to retain a workforce and grow that workforce," he said.

Along with better pay and telehealth options, the industry hopes to bring in more providers, especially to rural Oklahoma. That way more Oklahomans can get the help they need.


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