And now comes the news that Oklahoma ranks near the bottom – in yet another category – this time for overall mental health. This does not surprise me.
A story in the Daily Oklahoman on the rankings which came from a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes:
“Oklahoma trails only West Virginia for the percentage of residents with a severe mental illness, and only Utah in the percentage of residents suffering from mental illness of any kind.”
Commenting on the study, Terry White, Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner, says:
“The report is startling. Oklahoma has the biggest problem in the nation and is struggling with these things that are treatable.”
Oklahoma is a hard state to live in for the poor, low-income, disenfranchised, mentally ill, addicts, substance abusers, people without cars or health insurance, people of color. And let’s add to this list: people who are different, people who are outside mainstream thinking, and people who try to live honest lives and speak the truth.
The irony is Oklahoma has some of the wealthiest corporations and people in our midst -- so it can't be for lack of money circulating through our state that we fail so dismally at so many quality of life indicators. But it could be that we lack both a system that believes people are more important than outlandish profits, and policies that back that belief up by putting people first.
There is a way to have a thriving economy without killing the very people the economy is built on. Other countries have done it quite successfully and proven this over and over. Our unwillingness to simply look at these examples without ideological blinders – graphically illustrates our immaturity.
If Jesus came back to Oklahoma today, I have no doubt he would promptly be vilified and metaphorically crucified for raising issues we'd rather not face and for speaking for the people we walk all over on our way to “success.” We can add Woody Guthrie – one of our favorite truth tellers and in some minds, Oklahoma’s version of Jesus – to this list too.
Oklahoma is not a very mature state -- we don't like complexity. We have trouble holding multiple opposing viewpoints in our minds. We don’t know how or are unwilling to embrace our dark side (issues) so we run for the shelter of chamber of commerce cheerleading and that just makes our problems worse.
We tend to let any successes we have go to our heads and then to allow the powers that be to continue to cheerlead us into believing that everything is okay, that it is just fine to sit back and let others continue to run the state into the ground and grind anyone who raises their hand and asks questions into the dust.
The problem with this approach is that as far as I know cheerleaders never won a game in sports. So why do we let cheerleaders run our collective psyche? It’s not as if cheerleaders are going to magically transport us out of our problems and out of so many of the trash heaps of state rankings.
I am not suggesting we stop celebrating successes or noting useful progress in difficult areas. But until Oklahoma grows up and faces her problems honestly, without blinders I think we will continue our race to the bottom of rankings in categories such as this. And by facing our problems, I mean all of our problems, not just a few selected by secretive Good Old Boy systems because it makes for good chamber of commerce presentations.
I am suggesting that a more mature approach is to bring balance and perspective to these conversations – and that means inclusively embracing all points of view and facts versus ideology in seeking solutions. Doing so will lead us to more open, honest and transparent debates, healthier democracy and ultimately a better, healthier, happier place for all of us.