Jaclyn Cosgrove a Bright Star Advocate: an Ed Talk Summary by Catherine Allen

Members of NAMI Edmond-North OKC heard an informative ED Talk given by Jaclyn Cosgrove, health reporter for The Oklahoman, on October 11, 2016 at the Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Edmond.

In her position as health reporter, Cosgrove focuses on mental illness and substance abuse in Oklahoma. NAMI officer Jean Williams introduced her as a reporter who has grown into a mental health advocate who shows compassion, accuracy, and responsibility in her reporting.  Cosgrove has been named a  2015-2016 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism fellow. Her project, “Epidemic Ignored,” will focus on the problems and barriers faced by uninsured, low-income Oklahomans with mental illness and/or addiction who search for consistent, quality care.

In opening her presentation, Cosgrove shared what she has learned in her three years as a health reporter. She referenced Oklahoma as the state with the second highest rate of mental illness but with one of the lowest rates in per capita funding for it. This inadequate funding leads to major difficulty in getting appropriate help for those with mental illness or substance abuse. Those with low incomes and the uninsured have very few options. She stated, “It’s just too hard to get help for the people you love.” Cosgrove explained she decided to focus on mental health reporting because she was angered by the difficulty of getting adequate help. 

In a Q and A session, Cosgrove addressed one top mental health issue facing Oklahoma as the jailing of people with mental health problems. The criminal justice system by default treats mental illness, and the percentage of people with mental health or addiction issues in Oklahoma’s prison population is large and continually rising. Other top issues challenging Oklahomans include the treatment of people in crisis, cost of medication, trust issues with physicians by patients, and meeting people where they are with a treatment plan the person will accept. Cosgrove expressed her hope of eventually seeing Oklahoma as a state where people do not get criminal charges or incarceration as a result of mental health issues. 

One question posed by an attendee was, "If money spent on mental health issues doesn't fix the problems, what would?" Cosgrove replied that Oklahoma needs a comprehensive overhaul of the mental health system.  She was later praised for addressing such a complex issue that brings no easy solutions. Thanking Cosgrove for her efforts, NAMI member Cathy Costello remarked, “Keep up the good work. You are an amazing bright star, and we are so lucky to have you.”

Erik Collins