Another Depressing Report

Picasso's Old Guitarist


Oklahoma has always ranked high in depression and overall mental illness rates compared to other states, and yet another study confirms it.

A report by Mental Health America shows the state is in the bottom ten, or 46th, of all states and the District of Columbia when it comes to depression. (The lower number means high rates of depression.) The report bases its conclusions on, among other things, suicide rates and depression treatment.

This is yet another negative report about Oklahoma that, well, is somewhat depressing. As I have argued in the past, the state suffers from a severe case of “reportitis” when it comes to negative comparisons with other states. Oklahoma constantly ranks law in health and social categories. I have also argued the state leadership—despite possessing an understandable case of report burnout—needs to take these types of reports seriously if they hope to improve the quality of life here.

Depression, as the report argues, leads to other physical illnesses, such as heart disease. It is related to poverty and low productivity levels in the workplaces. It leads to substance abuse.

So the question is simply this: Why are Oklahomans more depressed than people in most other states? Let me offer some standard and not so standard answers to this question.

(1) Oklahoma does not screen well for depression. This is primarily because many Oklahomans, as other studies suggest, do not have adequate access to health care. If a person does not have an ongoing relationship with a primary care physician, her/his chances of receiving treatment for depression obviously decreases.

(2) The state has high rates of uninsured people. For many people, receiving treatment for depression is a luxury they simply cannot afford.

(3) Religious fundamentalism here promotes the oppression of feelings and emotions if they do not fit into the set script. Creative people, in particular, face the dilemma of constantly working against the oppressive ideology of extremists.

(4) Low salaries and incomes here create poverty and this leads to depression. Sure, Oklahoma has a low cost of living, but it also means many people cannot travel to places that are more expensive. This leads to a feeling of being “trapped,” of living in isolation.

(5) Bleak prairie landscapes—in some sections of the state—and dilapidated buildings and unkempt streets in rural towns and inner cities create a backdrop of ugliness that can harm the psyche. Along these same lines, the state’s erratic and often disastrous weather, documented by other reports, also creates personal hardship and anxiety.

(6) Oklahoma, as a whole, suffers from an image problem. The state is now known as a place that sanctions the ignorance of religious extremism, inadequate funding for education, and intolerance of alternative lifestyles and ethnic groups. The psychological residue of this outside image problem becomes ingrained in Oklahomans at an early age. Some people adopt a façade of false pride, but others develop major self-esteem problems, which can lead to severe depression.

There are solutions for all this, with the exception of weather disasters, of course, but nothing will happen until the state leadership takes the issue seriously.

God Speaks To Richard

Speaking of oppressing religious fundamentalism, the craziness continues at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. Richard Roberts, who recently resigned as ORU president, is claming God told him to resign his position when allegations surfaced he misspent university money. He says it is a prophecy fulfilled.

Roberts comments made national news, of course, and once again the state seems like the loony land of wacky religious kooks.

Meanwhile, Mart Green, owner of the Christian office supply chain, Mardel, and Hobby Lobby, says he and his family are willing to throw $70 million into the ORU mess, according to The Daily Oklahoman, if the university “changes the way it did its business.”



Kurt, I appreciate you discussing the issue of the high rate of depression in Oklahoma. I myself suffer from it and wish I had been encouraged to seek treatment much sooner than I did.

But, I gotta say that I disagree with what you said about "bleak prairie landscapes." Those of us who choose to live in Western Oklahoma (I am in the process of moving out there --- you can see my new home at think that the bleak prairie landscape is definitely not ugly but rather is beautiful in a different kind of way. And for whatever it is worth, moving to the wide-open country has done wonders for my own depression.

Anyway though, thanks for discussing this issue. It really is important.

J. M. Branum