As the pandemic tumbles along month after month, carelessly going this way and that, hunkering down wherever given an opportunity, people are increasingly struggling. There’s the ongoing stress from uncertainty, fear of and the reality of the COVID-19 virus for front line workers and the general population, anxiety of and loss of employment, isolation, separation from loved ones who are ill, and increased workloads for caretakers. Kevin Fisher, executive director for NAMI Michigan, told The Detroit News that mental health providers in the state are starting to see the effects. It’s resulted in a surge in mental health demands, with calls to the state’s crisis lines up 80%. The problem for Michiganders, he noted, is the disparate access to crisis care; only two counties have urgent psychiatric care walk-in clinics. There’s also a shortage of behavioral health workers, including social workers and psychiatrists. In fact, many counties have only one psychiatrist and none specifically dedicated to children. There are mobile crisis teams across the Michigan southwest, but they vary in hours, the populations they serve, and geography, with some areas more accessible than others.
Barriers to care in Michigan have widened because of health insurance with astronomical deductibles, limited funding for public mental health agencies to treat people who are un- or under-insured, and budget cuts to Michigan’s Community Mental Health (CMH). Robert Sheehan, CEO for the state’s Community Mental Health Association, told the paper that the state cut the non-Medicaid portion of the CMH budget by 60%, which means there’s little funding to serve people not covered by Medicaid.
The chasms in services and between levels of care have to be filled somehow—people aren’t going to just stop having crises. In lieu of a robust crisis system, law enforcement has had to become the stop-gap, but Fisher said it puts officers in the role of crisis provider when it should be mental health professionals providing care. He told The Detroit News that law enforcement sometimes need to clear the scene before a social worker can enter it but that the arrival of law enforcement in and of itself can “escalate the situation” for a person in crisis. What the state needs, said Fisher, is more mobile crisis teams for police departments to partner with, allowing officers to deploy teams when they get a call from or encounter a person in crisis. Todd Mutchler, Northville Township’s manager and public safety director, told the paper that mobile crisis teams are a fail-safe for people in mental health crises. It’s “a starting point to get them services that are better than to go sit in jail on some misdemeanor charge.”