Okla. First Lady, Other First Spouses Visit HHS For Child Mental Health Summit

Thursday, October 6th 2022, 9:45 pm


Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt was among a handful of other First Spouses to meet with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra Thursday for what Stitt described as a roundtable discussion of child mental health.

Addressing mental health has been Mrs. Stitt's cornerstone issue since her husband was elected governor four years ago, saying that the need in Oklahoma is great.

"Oklahoma has 900 diagnosed mental health cases per one practicing clinician," Stitt said in an interview Thursday. “We have a lot of generational cycles in Oklahoma."

Stitt said she could very easily have been one of those statistics.

"My family struggled with addiction, mental health, poverty and I thank God every day that I didn’t fall into those generational cycles that my family has struggled with for years,” Stitt said.

Stitt is hopeful that participating in this discussion will open the door to new solutions, potentially from the federal government.

"That's what we want to find out,” Stitt said. “That’s why we want to share our stories with the secretary and let the federal government know that we need innovation. We need help."

Accompanying the first lady Thursday was Dr. Amy Emerson, a Tulsa-area pediatrician and American Academy of Pediatrics fellow.

Dr. Emerson said we are in the midst of a mental health epidemic. More than half of visits to general pediatricians in Oklahoma now are for childhood development and mental health issues.

"I do think the fact that every family has now been touched in some way, we will use to our benefit because we are removing the blinders,” Emerson said. “We’re also removing the stigma that has for a long time surrounded mental health and wellness."

Emerson was optimistic that she and Stitt would come away with valuable information from the meeting.

"I always go into situations expecting that we will learn from others," Dr. Emerson said. “We will hear great ideas, and we will be able to take home some of these ideas and immediately put them in practice in our state." 

Both women said they're encouraged that, in last week's special session, state lawmakers agreed to $125 million in American Rescue Plan funds into a psychiatric hospital and behavioral health center.


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