Oklahoma's mental health crisis

Mental health services hang in the balance as state lawmakers argue about how to fill $215-million budget shortfall.

The availability of mental health services in Oklahoma is limited, and looming budget cuts have what's left in a strangle hold. It has been a battle at the Capitol, while legislators agree and disagree on how to keep state agencies funded, and fill a 215-million-dollar shortfall. Oklahomans are waiting with bated breath wondering if their lifesaving mental health services will be cut.

One of those Oklahomans is Pia Hilderbrandt, and she lives a mostly independent life, but it wasn't always that way. When she was first diagnosed with schizophrenia life started spiraling.

“Schizophrenia is very traumatizing. When I was first diagnosed, as soon as they told me that, I kind of knew it was the beginning of the end,” says Hilderbrandt.

Family support and state help got Hilderbrandt on the right path. Pia's mother, Ruth Mojica is an advocate for her daughter. She says support meetings with the National Alliance on Mental Illness have let her know she is not alone. Ruth sees everyone's fears regarding the budget cuts first hand.

“I can't imagine the people whose parents are too old or not there or are doing it on their own because this is the kind of disease where you don't often have family support,” says Mojica.

NAMI says that no matter what happens, it plans to continue its family educational programs. Even if the educational and support programs continue, those devastating cuts would have a profound effect, leaving NAMI nowhere to direct the people who are suffering.

“It is terrifying. It is scary. People are losing services. Families do not know what they are going to do how they are going to help their loved one,” says Andrea Michaels, NAMI Director of Operations.

As for Hilderbrandt, that question mark is still hanging over her head. The reality is that losing her mental health providers and losing her affordable medication, means losing her life as she knows it.

“If I didn't have the medication I would be so sick. I could be on the streets. I could be homeless,” says Hilderbrandt.

If law makers take no action, sweeping cuts will happen, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services announced it will be forced to cut all outpatient services. Even if a budget agreement is reached soon, cuts still possible.

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