Oklahoma legislators launch mental health caucus

Oklahoma legislators launch mental health caucus

Nearly 30 Oklahoma legislators announced they would be creating a bipartisan, bicameral legislative caucus to help legislators discuss bipartisan solutions to their state’s ongoing mental health and addiction crises.

The caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Josh West (R-Grove), and Sen. Julia Kirt (D-Oklahoma City), will consist of 28 legislators who will meet monthly during the legislative session to consider key mental health issues and how to improve care and systems to address those issues in their state.

Oklahoma’s legislature meets from the first Monday in February to the last Friday in May.

“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.”

According to a statement from the legislators, one in five Oklahomans had a mental health condition before COVID-19, and an estimated 40 percent are experiencing anxiety and depression because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Oklahoma overdoses have increased by more than 50 percent of the last 12 months.

“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,” Kirt said.

The Oklahoma legislature will consider bills and funding issues in the coming session, including agency funding, Medicaid changes, telehealth, and mental health parity, among others, that will shape the future of mental health and addiction in that state, the legislators said. The caucus will discuss and review the bills, with access to available data, national best practices, and state experts.