OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma legislative session is set to kick off on Monday.
There will be different procedural changes thanks to COVID-19 at the Oklahoma Capitol, but there also will be a new focus on mental health thanks to the pandemic.
“We know that the pandemic is just maxing people out and has magnified any mental health challenges that people face. We are trying to make sure we get legislators more informed,” said Senator Julia Kirt.
The Democrat from Oklahoma City is talking about a new 30-plus member caucus that is slated to meet once a month this session to focus on mental health issues across the state.
The problems were made worse by the pandemic.
“Suicide rates are up, depression is up, so we are looking at ways to combat that,” said Sen. Josh West.
The Republican representative from Grove is co-chairing the bi-partisan caucus with Kirt. His military service background makes mental health issues hit close to home for West.
“You can experience depression, PTSD, things like that, and still overcome it and become a productive member of society,” said West.
The caucus will reportedly bring in experts in different fields to speak directly to lawmakers about issues like, opioid and drug addiction, along with getting more mental health help for law enforcement in the field.
West says Oklahoma needs to push for more preventative care. He says it helps the patient and the state.
“When you invest in these kids when they are younger, when you get them the help that they need, in return, you are not going to be spending the $25,000-a-year to keep them in prison,” said West.
As far as legislation that might come out of the caucus to help, Kirt says you can look to one benefit to come out of the pandemic; online and telephone doctor visits.
“Insurance has been paying for that and it’s made a real difference on people having access especially in rural areas,” said Kirt.
West says he will continue to push for laws that recognize mental health injuries for first responders.
Kirt says they will coordinate with the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma to guide content. You can contact the Association to be a part of the process.