OKLAHOMA CITY - As part of her State of the State address to Oklahomans, Gov. Mary Fallin appealed for an increase of $16 million in funding for mental health, and while doing so, recognized the tragic suicide at Coweta Intermediate High.
"Today we received some very tragic news of a teenager who killed himself at a Coweta intermediate High school. and I want to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to him and the families and the students and the school itself and I hope you'll remember him today," Fallin said just before making her pitch to Oklahoma lawmakers.
READ: 'Student, 15, commits suicide at Coweta school' (http://bit.ly/Cowetasuicide)
She said the money will benefit an array on initiatives within the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services that include the Systems of Care Initiative to help children with emotional disturbances. She also said attacking these issues when children are young will go a long way in preventing them from entering what she termed a self-destructive path that could lead to crime or death.
Fallin wants to grow and expand the state's crisis center program, which serves people having psychiatric emergencies.
Fallin also addressed suicide.
"For the first time ever, I’m also proposing we allocate state dollars for suicide prevention. Oklahoma has one of the higher rates of suicide in the nation, and it is especially prevalent among our military veterans. New resources will help to reduce these tragedies,"she said.
State Rep. Wade Rousselot (D-12), representing Coweta, applauded the governor's focus on the issue, especially after learning that a 15-year-old boy in his district had killed himself at school.
Rousselot said his thoughts and prayers are with the victim's family.
He said mental health is something he takes very seriously and pledged to work with the governor to ensure that the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services gets the funding that it needs.
"I fully believe that we can put very little up front and save lives as opposed to having a tragedy happen because we don't do anything," Rousselot said.
And if not a tragedy to the extent of death, then somebody spending their life in prison because we didn't try to help them," he said.
Rousselot admitted that mental health bills typically would take a backseat to sexier issues like gun control, jobs and taxes.
But after Fallin's speech, Rousselot says he is confident lawmakers will take her pitch seriously.
"I'll do everything I can to help her in that area," he said.
READ: 'Gov. Fallin's State of the State: The Highlights' (http://bit.ly/Fallinhighlights)
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Oklahoma currently ranks 13th in the country for overall suicide rate.
In November 2012, HeartLine Oklahoma announced that suicide was the second leading cause of death among the age group 10-24 in Oklahoma.
That same age group, according to HeartLine, has a higher rate of suicide when compared with the national average.
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Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer and many Oklahomans are expected to spend the weekend at area lakes.