Friday, Aug. 19, 2021
First Watch

Suicide in Oklahoma: The Latest Data and Search For Solutions

Whitney Bryen’s reporting on mental health often leads her into heartbreaking territory. Her latest story on the topic delved into the state medical examiner’s most recent data on suicide.

Here, Whitney shares some takeaways from her reporting and ripples her story already has created:

Oklahomans are hurting. And the pandemic exasperated that pain.

Last year, 883 Oklahomans died by suicide.

One of them was an 8-year-old boy. Another was a 94-year-old man.

 Oklahomans of all walks of life are effected by suicide. But in the past several years, suffering has increased at a higher rate in some communities.

The number of Black Oklahomans that died by suicide doubled from 2016 to 2020. Mental health experts say racial tensions, including nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd last summer, may have contributed.

And rural Oklahoma has higher rates of suicide. Experts blame a lack of treatment options and increased stigma around mental health care. 

Overall, suicide in Oklahoma has increased 62% since 2006.

I shared my research with 30 state lawmakers that make up the Mental Health Caucus. One representative responded by asking, “Do you have ideas for making a dent in this problem?” I shared my recent story about the need for more mental health care in schools. 

I also joined Sen. Kay Floyd and Julie Geddes from the Department of Mental Health in a roundtable about suicide hosted by OETA. The session will air this weekend on the Oklahoma News Report. 

Floyd is hosting interim studies on adolescent suicide this fall, which could provide some early clues about upcoming legislation related to suicide prevention. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, call 211 for state help or 1-800-273-8255 for the national suicide prevention hotline. If you have any suggestions or story ideas, contact Whitney at wbryen@oklahomawatch.org.

In Focus

Suicide in Oklahoma Climbed 10% in 2020

Experts began warning of dire consequences soon after the pandemic arrived: Mental health crises would escalate. Suicides would rise. In Oklahoma, those predictions came true. [Read more…]

The Latest

Only Half of Oklahoma’s Nursing Home Workers Are Vaccinated. Now Biden Is Mandating It.

The head of a company that employs more than 1,000 workers at 23 long-term care facilities across the state said she supports a vaccine mandate — but only if it applies to all facilities that receive federal health care dollars.[Read more …]

Oklahoma Offering Free ACT, SAT to Students This Fall

Use our database to see how your Oklahoma public high school’s class of 2019 scored on the ACT college-readiness exam. [Read more …]

As COVID Cases Rise, Oklahoma Sees Increased Insurance Signups

As COVID-19 cases surge again in Oklahoma, there is some positive news on the state’s health care front. Thousands of Oklahomans gained insurance through President Biden’s Affordable Health Care Act special enrollment. [Read more …]

Around the web

  • Survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre do not trust city officials to search for the graves of Black residents who were killed by a white mob and have asked the U.S. Justice Department to intervene. [New York Times]
  • Hulbert Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma became the third state school district to mandate masks Wednesday, two days after its middle and high schools switched to virtual because seven individuals tested positive for COVID-19. Every Hulbert student and employee will be required to wear a mask unless they are eating or maintaining social distance. Families wishing to opt out of the mask mandate are asked to switch to the district’s virtual option. Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday blasted Hulbert’s decision to defy the recent state law banning local governments and school boards from passing mask mandates. “It is disappointing that one school district has chosen to openly violate a state law that was supported by 80% of the Legislature,” Stitt said in a statement. [Tulsa World]
  • Who needs a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and where Oklahoman’s can get one. [The Oklahoman]

— Mike Sherman, Executive Editor, Oklahoma Watch

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