Michigan’s broken mental health system has left those who need help with mental health issues empty-handed.
Decades of disinvestment and short-term reforms led by Republican and Democratic leaders alike have resulted in a system that has been outgrown and mismanaged.
Meanwhile, rates of mental illness are skyrocketing, as evidenced by police interactions with mentally disturbed individuals on the streets and in schools. And the mental health counselors on the front lines of the crisis are underpaid and cannot keep up with the caseload.
This relentless problem should be a priority for Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the new state legislature. Fortunately, the governor agrees, mental health is at a critical juncture, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our mental health system was dismantled four years ago and we as a country have never really addressed it and created the mental health support that people need.” Whitmer told the Detroit News editorial board last month.
“I realize there is more good work to be done here,” he said. She said.
Of course, that was true when Whitmer took office four years ago, and she has done little to address the issue. This term, should follow her stated concern with action.
With her party in full control of the legislature, she has no excuse not to implement a comprehensive plan to tackle bureaucratic waste and limited access to services, especially for juveniles, and fully explore how mental health overlaps with crime, school safety and education, and poverty and homelessness.
Some steps you should take:
Streamline the structure of the Community Health Boards, which have local control over state-funded treatment and services, as well as those of the 10 prepaid inpatient health plans. Both entities are saddled with bureaucratic inefficiency and lack the flexibility to respond to pressing needs.
– Improving pay and working conditions for the most skilled mental health counsellors to keep them where they are needed most – Providing personal care. Often, those who work in the mental health system are no better off financially than those they serve. “I have mental health workers who come to visit clients, and while they’re here they get diapers and shoes because they can’t afford to take care of their family,” she says. says Randy Richardville, former Republican Senate Majority Leader and executive director of the Village of Oaks of the Troubles in Monroe.
– Strengthening services in rural areas that have become a desert of mental health care, without fixed services for those in need.
Making community mental health systems more responsible and efficient. Establishing common medical files for providers and standardizing services would help. “It is clear that more can and should be done in the current public care system to reduce administrative expenses and reorient to service – not profit.” says Tom Watkins, the state’s former director of mental health.
– Opening more long-term and short-term mental health facilities capable of accommodating the homeless and those who may end up in prison.
The consequences of neglecting mental health are becoming increasingly public. Confrontations between police and mentally ill individuals have turned deadly. Police departments are the default agencies for dealing with the mentally unstable. People who should be in medical treatment facilities are often confined to prisons that are not equipped to treat or house them.
Detroit Police Chief James White describes it as ongoing ‘Mental health crisis’ So do sheriffs and law enforcement agencies across the state.
This year Detroit police officers respond an average of 64 times a day to mental health — more than three times as many mental health-related 911 calls as in 2020, according to DPD data.
Whitmer noted its investment in adding school mental health counselors and social workers to the state’s roster, but there simply aren’t enough. In schools, mental health is the #1 behavioral issue. Rates of depression and suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents have risen sharply since the COVID pandemic.
The governor says building more juvenile psychiatric facilities is a priority. This is important, given how poorly equipped some foster facilities are to handle those under state care.
The need for leadership on an issue affecting so many Michiganders has never been so clear. Whitmer and the next legislature should address this on day one.
– Detroit News