Terri White, the long-serving commissioner of mental health and leader of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, will be stepping down from her post Feb. 1.
The agency distributed an email announcing White’s departure, which had been rumored for months. White has served as commissioner of mental health since 2007, having joined ODMHSAS in 2001.
“It has been my deepest honor to serve as Oklahoma’s Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for the last 13 years,” White said in the email.
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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt released a statement after White’s announcement.
“We appreciate the leadership Terri White has provided in addressing and promoting mental health across Oklahoma and wish her the best as she enters this new chapter,” Stitt said. “I have requested for Carrie (Slatton-Hodges) to immediately step in as the interim commissioner to ensure consistency and stability in delivering the vital mission of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.”
During her state service, White increased public discussion about mental health and addiction issues, emphasizing brain health and promoting the fact that conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses are treatable.
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“Commissioner White’s work has touched the lives of many thousands of Oklahomans experiencing mental illness and their families, and we owe her a debt of gratitude,” ODMHSAS Board Chairwoman Courtney Knoblock said in the statement. “It has taken disciplined and dedicated work, but Terri White has made ODMHSAS one of the most respected state mental health agencies in the nation.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) released a statement shortly after White’s announcement.
“Terri White has been a fierce advocate for mental health services throughout our state,” Virgin said. “Her passion for her job as commissioner was driven by her compassion for Oklahomans suffering from mental illness. There is little doubt in my mind that the entire state has been positively impacted by Commissioner White’s service.”
Recently, White was a key witness in the state’s trial against opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. In October 2017, she spearheaded a rally and press conference calling for the Oklahoma Legislature to find a budgetary solution that would avoid $75 million in cuts to state mental health services.
In the ODMHSAS email sent to state leaders, the agency noted that Carrie Slatton-Hodges, ODMHSAS deputy commissioner of treatment and recovery services, will serve as interim commissioner.
The agency released additional information about White’s background and plans for the future:
In addition to her career endeavors, Commissioner White has been recognized by numerous civic organizations for her outstanding leadership abilities and tireless efforts to improve the quality of life for Oklahomans living with mental or addictive disorders. She received a national Henry Toll Fellowship with the Council of State Governments in 2015. In 2014, White received the “Kate Barnard Award” from the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women, created to honor outstanding women who have made a difference in Oklahoma through public service. She is a three-time honoree of The Journal Record’s “50 Women Making a Difference.” In 2017, she was named “Compassionate Citizen of the Year” by the Oklahoma Foundation for the Disabled. Also in 2017, the University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences awarded her its Distinguished Alumnus honor. Also in 2017, Commissioner White was the first Oklahoman to be inducted as an honorary member of the Oklahoma National Guard for her work with veterans, service members and their families. In 2011, she was inducted into OU’s Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work Hall of Fame, and is a volunteer faculty member with the University’s School of Medicine.
Commissioner White will continue working in the area of and advocating fiercely for every Oklahoman in need to have early and ongoing access to evidence-based, nationally recognized mental health and addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services in new roles outside of state government.
(Editor’s note: The author of this post has taught the internationally recognized Mental Health First Aid program to teachers, health care professionals and other Oklahoma citizens on behalf of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, to include comment from Virgin.)