Legislators Launch Mental Health Caucus to Address Ongoing Crisis

Twenty-eight members of the Oklahoma Legislature today announced the formation of a bipartisan, bicameral legislative caucus to serve as a forum for legislators to discuss bipartisan solutions to the state’s ongoing mental health and addiction crisis.

The caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Josh West, R-Grove, and Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, will convene monthly during the legislative session to stay informed on key mental health issues and discuss ideas for improving care and systems in Oklahoma.

Senator Julia Kirt (D-Oklahoma City)
Representative Josh West (R-Grove)

Bipartisan Issue

“Mental health and addiction are bipartisan issues that impact every Oklahoman in some way,” West said. “No matter your background or politics, whether you’re rural or urban, you’ve seen the devastating impacts of untreated mental health and addiction. So many of us have seen it in our own families or communities. This issue can and should unite us all.”

Kirt added, “It’s so important that we come together now, at the height of this crisis. With the stress and hardship of the global pandemic, mental health and addiction issues have grown to levels we’ve never seen as a state. This impacts every issue we deal with at the Capitol, from education to health and criminal justice.”

One in five Oklahomans had a mental health condition prior to COVID-19. Now an estimated 40% of Oklahomans are experiencing anxiety and depression, and the CDC reports that Oklahoma opioid overdoses have increased by more than 50% in the last 12 months. Due to an increase in the trauma associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the risk of childhood mental health conditions also has elevated.

Untreated mental illness and addiction lead to increasing costs for the government and the private sector, less economic growth, and poorer educational and health outcomes. Nearly 60% of Oklahomans in need of treatment last year did not receive it, according to Mental Health America.

The Oklahoma Legislature will consider a number of bills and funding issues in 2021 that will shape the future of this issue, including agency funding, Medicaid changes, telehealth, and mental health parity, law enforcement, and first responder supports, and school-based services. This caucus will discuss and review key ideas with access to available data, national best practices, and state experts.

Caucus membership is open to any interested legislators. The caucus will make available virtual attendance, practice social distancing, and will comply with health and safety guidelines as well as any protocols established for handling meetings during the legislative session.

Founding Members

State Rep. Josh West, R-Grove (Chair)

State Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City (Chair)

State Rep. Steve Bashore, R-Miami

State Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa

State Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa

State Rep. Ty Burns, R-Tulsa

State Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa

State Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle

State Rep. Jose Cruz, D-Oklahoma City

State Rep. Shelia Dills, R-Tulsa

State Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City

State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow

State Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City

State Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa

State Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan

State Rep. Garry Mize, R-Guthrie

State Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City

State Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds

State Rep. Randy Randleman, R-Eufaula

State Rep. Eric Roberts, R-Oklahoma City

State Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City

State Sen. Jo Anna Dossett, D-Tulsa

State Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso

State Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow

State Sen. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika

State Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada

State Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton

State Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer

State Sen. Blake Stephens, R-Tahlequah

State Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah

State Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City