Oklahoma Policy Institute has grown a lot in the past few years. From humble beginnings in 2008, we now have a staff of 19, including talented individuals who focus on a wide range of policy issues, intensive data analysis, outreach, communications, events and operations, and more. To give you a better idea of who we are and what we all do, we are running an OK Policy Blog series highlighting our staffers.
For this edition, here’s Mental Health Policy Analyst and Mental Health Policy Fellowship Coordinator Lauren Turner:
What do you do at OK Policy?
I am the mental health analyst (which includes advocating for better policy around substance use disorders). I also coordinate our new Mental Health Policy Fellowship, a program that is equipping early career professionals from diverse educational backgrounds to be effective advocates for mental health across the state.
What’s your favorite thing about doing this work?
My favorite part of this work is educating people about mental illness and helping them understand that addressing mental health is crucial to improving outcomes in other areas where Oklahoma tends to struggle including education, incarceration, and economic opportunity. This work gives me the opportunity to do my part in ending the stigma and shame that tends to surround discussions about mental illness and substance use disorders and ensuring they are seen as an illness, just like physical health conditions like heart disease or cancer that can be treated and managed.
What would you most like Oklahoma to become a “Top 10 State” in?
Access to mental health care and increased investment in mental health is my top priority. Oklahoma spends around half as much on mental health per person compared to the rest of the United States. Investment in mental health services needs to be more of a priority as it has historically been massively underfunded.
Honorable mention goes to reducing childhood trauma. Children in Oklahoma are some of the most traumatized in the United States and this impacts children for the rest of their lives — it makes it harder for kids to do their best in school which in turn makes it harder for them to reach their full potential. It increases the chances of serious health problems including difficulties with mental health and substance abuse in adulthood. It makes teen pregnancy and incarceration more likely. The future of our state will be significantly better and healthier if we find effective ways to prevent children from experiencing trauma.
What else should OK Policy’s readers know about you?
I love Oklahoma — it’s the only place I have ever called home and I am deeply committed to making it a better, more equitable place to live. When I’m not thinking about policy, I love listening to podcasts (feel free to send me recommendations — always on the hunt for something interesting to listen to), watching standup comedy, spending time with my ugly but loveable dogs, and doing crossword puzzles.