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In 2014, the Chickasaw Nation began taking a new approach to mental health services that enables far more patients to access needed care.

Governor Anoatubby said the Chickasaw Nation Departments of Health and Family Services have worked to eliminate the stigma regarding mental health issues.

“We have increased our efforts to combat the stigma of mental health issues in recent years. Our integration between mental health services and physical, are the kind of medical services people usually expect when they go into our health system now, they’re also receiving very important support when it comes to mental health.”

Chickasaw Nation Executive Officer of Integrated Services Dr. Shannon Dial said the new focus on integrated care has made a significant difference.

“Governor Anoatubby had the foresight to forecast that we needed integrated care here. Through him and our leadership, we decided to flip behavioral health on its head and take all our clinicians out of a traditional setting and embed them in our health care departments, including the emergency room, all of our hospital services and our clinics,” said Dr. Dial.

“The wisdom to start integrated care when we did is really the foundation that started us on our path to creating a solid suicide care management system. Without integrated care what we have been able to do in suicide prevention would not have happened.”

Dr. Dial said before integrated care, the behavioral health program had approximately 1,200 patient visits yearly. Implementation of integrated care has increased that number to approximately 20,000 visits yearly.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) representatives recently visited the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health and spoke with mental health officials to learn what resources and practices the tribe is employing, particularly in suicide prevention.

SAMHSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, has been instrumental in providing grants the Chickasaw Nation credits with helping it achieve its goals in suicide prevention.

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said SAMHSA’s efforts have helped the Chickasaw Nation fulfill its broader mission.

“The subject of suicide and suicide prevention is really an important issue,” Governor Anoatubby said. “We’ve talked about our mission of enhancing the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people, and we work hard to meet that mission each and every day. Your visit here has to do with meeting that mission.”

Governor Anoatubby said while enhancing the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people is critical, the tribe’s desire to serve also extends to their neighbors.

“We serve a lot of Chickasaws, obviously, but our programs aren’t limited to Chickasaws. We provide services to other First Americans,” he said.

“Then there are other folks in our communities that aren’t Chickasaw or Native. We work with nonprofits, with other entities out there to help also provide services to them. We work not only in the Chickasaw Nation, but throughout Oklahoma and also in the metropolitan areas. We want to work with everyone.”

Governor Anoatubby said this concern for others especially applies in the area of suicide prevention.

“We believe that suicide prevention services work to support emotional well-being and mental wellness, and they reduce risk through this variety of education and training.”

Governor Anoatubby said SAMHSA’s support has been an important factor in that process.

“We are delighted by the partnership we have with you and the support you provide. It helps us do our job better,” he told SAMHSA’s representatives.

Governor Anoatubby said the Chickasaw Nation has implemented the Zero Suicide program to great success.

“(Zero Suicide) is a very important initiative that has already paid dividends throughout the Chickasaw Nation area,” he said.

Governor Anoatubby said cooperation and collaboration are important.

“I think it adds to the success of everyone when we work together. We want to be a positive force, not only in our community, but throughout the state and, if possible, throughout the nation. You do this through continuing dialog and partnership. It’s our hope that together, we all can build a model and have the collaborations between our tribal nations, this administration and those around us so we can do the very best work and have the best impact we possibly can,” he said.

Dr. Dial said SAMHSA is the reason the Chickasaw Nation started the Zero Suicide program. In 2015, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) received a grant to mentor Oklahoma hospitals to adopt Zero Suicide with funds provided by SAMHSA.

“We applied to be one of those hospitals to receive that funding, and we were one of 11 chosen. I truly believe if it weren’t for this funding opportunity, we would not have heard the words ‘Zero Suicide’ for at least another four to six years. You gave us a gift we didn’t know how badly we needed.

“Because of leadership support, we immediately were able to execute a full system Zero Suicide implementation. This has included the adoption of a patient tracking system for those identified at risk of suicide in early 2020. Of those we have been tracking with this tool, I’m proud to say we have not lost one (patient) to suicide,” she said.

Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse and the leader of SAMHSA, said she and her team were pleased with the way the Chickasaw Nation is employing its grant funds.

“It has been such a gift just to be able to have these conversations, and to share ideas and hear about best practices and the creative ways our resources are being used to address prevention, treatment and recovery-related needs,” Dr. Delphin-Rittmon said.

“We’re excited about continuing the partnership, and love that the Chickasaw Nation has so many of our SAMHSA grants and is doing such meaningful work to improve the lives of tribal citizens,” she said.

For First American-based resources, text “NATIVE” to 741741. For emergency help, dial 911.

Those experiencing an emotional crisis, addiction or suicidal ideation can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or use the chat option on SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

For more information on mental health support or educational resources, visit Chickasaw.net/MentalWellness.

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
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