Epidemic Ignored was a yearlong investigation in 2015, into Oklahoma’s mental health system by Jaclyn Cosgrove. This part examined the history of mental health treatment in Oklahoma.
Even before Oklahoma was a state, leaders grappled with how to provide care to residents with mental illnesses. By wagon, by horse, on foot, by train, thousands of people flooded into the Oklahoma Territory during the late 1800s. And with that deluge of people came a need for a mental health system.
At first, Oklahoma Territory leaders sent residents with mental illnesses away, by train to Illinois.
But in 1895, leaders decided that was too expensive — $17,000 over the previous two years just to transport the residents. It was one of the costliest expenses in the territory’s budget.
“I apprehend that aside from the savings in cost, it will be more desirable in every respect to have these unfortunates cared for near their friends and relatives and by citizens of the Territory,” Gov. William C. Renfrow wrote in his 1895 address to the Legislature.
Renfrow had decided it was time to bring these residents back to receive treatment in Norman at a private psychiatric hospital. That was the inception of Oklahoma’s mental health system. Continue Reading
Mental Health Court
According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, approximately 12,600 offenders have a mental health need. In addition, 57 percent of inmates diagnosed with a mental illness were incarcerated for non-violent offenses. The Oklahoma County Jail has as many as 500 persons with a mental illness at any one time and the Tulsa County Jail has at least 200 persons with a mental illness at any one time.
We all struggle alone
through the ten thousand joys
and ten thousand sorrows
of our lives.
Elizabeth Kim,Ten-Thousand Sorrows
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Oklahoma City, OK 73105