Community forum focuses on mental health concerns
A crowd packed the District House on Tuesday evening for a community forum sponsored by The Oklahoman on mental health and addiction issues.
The "Behind the Headlines" forum — moderated by health reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove — came on the heels of the first installment of her investigative work into mental illness, Epidemic Ignored.
A half-dozen people who have been treated for mental health and addiction issues, and now aid in community and volunteer programs to help people like themselves briefly shared their stories.
Speakers' stories ranged from an ordained minister who traveled to the White House during the Carter administration to the daughter of a drug dealer who eventually gave birth to a cocaine-addicted son.
Their pasts were varied, but their message the same: There is hope, and help is available to those in need.
Eric Gates, a veteran who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence, now volunteers as a way to give back.
"The struggle is real. ... We have people who are living on the streets; we have people who are actively psychotic and have no help for themselves. And I have taken it upon myself to try to give back in whatever capacity, whatever way possible," Gates said.
"For some odd reason, this concept of you reap what you sow, you give what you get just works, and it works for me," he said.
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- Video: An Epidemic Ignored: Conversations about mental illness and addiction in Oklahoma (2016-01-26)
After personal stories were shared, Savannah Kalman, suicide prevention program manager at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, closed out the public speakers.
"These are your friends, these are your family members, and mental illness does not deserve the weird stigma that we attach to it. We do not talk about this the way we do about mental disorders," Kalman said.
"Please email or call your legislator. Please share with them tonight's stories of recovery. Recovery works. These people are lovely and they're living in recovery. They are just a few of many, many Oklahomans who are putting money back into our state, who are giving of themselves to other people who are still currently struggling, and who are assisting the department when we fall short because we have so many limitations put on us," she said.
The second half of the forum was opened to questions from the audience.
The first question was, "What do you do if you live with someone who will not seek help?"
"You cannot argue with crazy, and please do what you need to do to protect yourself," answered Augusta Cox, a former financial adviser who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Cox now works as the outreach coordinator for National Alliance on Mental Illness Oklahoma.
One of the final questions from the audience: "How can we help a family member who wants help for a mental illness or addiction but has no job, money or insurance?"
"We want to see you, and we want to help you. If you come to any one of our 14 community-based mental health centers, we will find a way," Kalman said.
"If you need care, that's all we need to know," she said.
"Don't let ability to pay ever stop you from seeking help," Kalman said.