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Chickasaw Nation Honored for Treating Mental Illness, Substance Abuse

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On May 1 at a reception concluding the "My Mind Matters Day at the Capitol," Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby accepted the Coalition of Advocates’ award for the Chickasaw Nation Behavioral Health Department's efforts to battle mental illness and substance abuse.

The second annual event at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City united nonprofit organizations and those affected by mental illness to raise awareness of the need for funding treatment services for mental illness and substance abuse, according to a Mental Health Association in Tulsa press release. The Coalition of Advocates' mission is to influence public policies toward the goal of holistic health for Oklahomans through collaborations and advocacy.

Gov. Anoatubby accepted the prestigious award at the evening reception, held at RED Prime Steak in downtown Oklahoma City. Among the 101 reception attendees was Representative T.W. Shannon, who is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation. Other legislators in attendance were Rep. Ann Coody, Rep. Doug Cox, Rep. Tommy Hardin, Sen. Al McAffrey, Rep. Jadine Nollan, Rep. Pam Peterson, Rep. Sean Roberts, Rep. Ben Sherrer, Rep. Todd Thomsen and Rep. Harold Wright.

Governor Anoatubby said in his acceptance speech, “For decades, the Chickasaw Nation Behavioral Health Department has provided Native Americans, no matter what tribe they are, with mental health services. And we incorporate the entire family into the overall wellness of any one individual. This includes an effort to remove the negative stigma from mental health services, and to promote mental health services as being just as necessary as physical health services. In fact, we see it as a determining factor in the overall complete health of our families and of our nation.”

Terry Cline, the Oklahoma commissioner of health, shared Governor Anoatubby's passion for mental health services.

“If you are living with untreated mental illness right now, your life expectancy is 25 years shorter than someone who is not experiencing mental illness. That is tragic because it is preventable,” he said. “The exciting thing about this point in history is that we understand that we need to treat the mind, body and spirit. We need to pay attention to all aspects of who we are. When we neglect any part of that, we are neglecting our full potential.”

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Terri White, commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, began her remarks by praising Governor Anoatubby and the Chickasaw Nation.

“I have been a huge fan of Governor Anoatubby for years,” she said. “We have been great partners on many things. I really want to thank him, and all of the people of the Chickasaw Nation, for leading the way to show what can happen for our nation when we decide mental health is a priority.”

Speaking to a crowd that included several legislators, Commissioner White offered a call to action.

“Right now in our state, we spend more money on asphalt than we spend on our brains,” she said. “There is more money invested in transportation than there is in making sure we have healthy minds. If we would invest in healthy minds, we could change the state in ways that we have never seen. We can decrease your corrections cost, we can decrease your cost in foster care, we can decrease costs in the emergency room, we can decrease costs in the Medicaid program. We can save so much money that you all won?t know what to do with it.”

Commissioner White ended her speech on a personal note.

“I'm really glad you are all here today, because that means you care, and that means you are going to start making a difference for all of us, particularly for our next generation,” she said. “I want my 2 ½-year-old son to someday be able to say, I'm in a state where my mind matters more than any other state in the nation."