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Mental Health Advocates Pressure MDHHS For More

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Various mental health advocates and health care systems are pressuring MDHHS to increase the $ 360 million in community behavioral services now spent in their budget:

Mental health advocates push for less stigma, more help in Michigan
Opinion by Carol Cain • April 6, 2024

Despite the flurry of post-pandemic headlines about the mental health crisis enveloping our nation, folks who could benefit from getting help are often not doing so because of a powerful six-letter word: stigma.

There’s a double standard when it comes to getting help for physical illnesses like diabetes or heart issues (which most folks would think ludicrous to not do so) versus mental illnesses, which encompasses hundreds of diseases, from depression to schizophrenia to anxiety. Many with mental illness suffer in silence, embarrassed to talk about it or ask for help, even though statistics show people can live fuller and happier lives with it.

“While post-pandemic we are talking more about mental illness and the importance of valuing and protecting our mental health, mental illness is a crisis in America,” said Kevin Fischer, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness, Michigan chapter. “Just talking about it is not enough; we need action. We have an annual national “Stand Up to Cancer” event that broadcasts across multiple TV networks but no “Stand Up to Stigma.” Far more people are diagnosed with mental illness than cancer each year. Why no outcry for us?“
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The mental health crisis is impacting business, too: “Companies lose almost $200 billion in lost earnings each year in employee absenteeism and productivity in the U.S. alone due to mental health issues involving themselves or taking care of a family member,” Fischer said.

When you consider one out of every five adults experiences some sort of mental illness during the course of a year, according to NAMI, it’s a conversation that should be happening more often.

Emily Sexton, CEO of Henry Ford Health’s Behavioral Health Hospital opening on the campus of the Henry Ford Hospital on Maple Road in West Bloomfield later this year, has been focusing on it. Sexton is a registered nurse who specialized in infectious diseases 20 years ago when she began. In recent years, mental health has been part of her job, too.

“We know when a person suffers from mental health issues, it can impact so many facets of their lives,” she said. “We want to help ensure anyone who deals with these serious issues never gets to that point.”

The 192-bed in-patient behavioral health hospital is a partnership between Henry Ford and Acadia Healthcare. The hospital will offer behavioral health services and serve as an academic site, too, educating the next generation of behavioral health care providers, including psychiatry residents, medical students and nurses.

“New and groundbreaking research, technology, quality programs, innovation, access and brand-new facilities like the one we are building in West Bloomfield are starting to reveal the breadth of what’s possible,” she said.

“The enduring stigma surrounding both mental health and substance use can cause serious delays in seeking care,” Sexton said. “This may be due to fears of judgment, unequal treatment or fear of losing their livelihood. Societal efforts to destigmatize mental health care and fostering open dialogue are commendable, yet there remains a pressing need to establish inclusive environments where those suffering can access care without fear of prejudice or harm.”

Eric Hipple, former Detroit Lions All-Star quarterback, has been sharing his story to let people know help is at hand.

Hipple began suffering from depression while a star quarterback at Utah State University in the late 1970s. It came and went during his NFL playing days but became more pronounced after he hung up his cleats in the late 1980s.

Hipple has been through a lot as he dealt with his own depression and his family’s: His beloved son, Jeff Hipple, lost his life to the disease when he was 15 years old; he died by suicide in 2000.

Since then, Hipple has become an advocate and in-demand powerful speaker for schools, veterans groups and organizations. He’s worked with the NFL, the University of Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and organizations including, which has worked with over 150 Michigan schools and 30,000 high school coaches, Hipple said.

The topic of opening up about mental health is resonating with younger folks.

“I believe the youth of today understands the language and symptoms better and accepts mental health as a real illness and are not afraid to tell someone or ask for help,” Hipple said.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is another longtime champion for mental health. Her father suffered from bipolar disorder, which had been misdiagnosed and caused issues in her family growing up. While a student at Michigan State University in the 1970s, she happened to learn about a new drug, lithium, being used to treat the disease and told her family about it. Her father got the help he needed, which made a world of difference.

“We’ve taken steps to reduce the stigma around mental health but there is more work to be done,” Stabenow said. “We are changing the behavioral health care system in our country and moving towards treating health care above the neck the same as health care below the neck. This transformation, in addition to more people telling their stories about themselves and their loved ones, means more people can see that they are not alone.”

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, has been waving the flag to help, particularly young people which is when most mental illness surfaces.

“We need to talk openly about mental health and the fact any of us could use support or services at one time or another during our lives,” Hertel said. "We need to normalize having a mental health checkup, just like we do getting regular health screenings.”

She said the state has invested more than $360 million in community behavioral services the past two years to ensure “families can receive services when and where they need them.”

That said, more help is needed in the state as it faces an ongoing need of mental health professionals.

NAMI Michigan’s Fischer, whose son Dominique died by suicide, told me he didn’t know much about mental illness until Dominique began having issues in college.

“Mental illness doesn’t discriminate,” said Fischer, who is celebrating his 10th anniversary on the job. “We need to do a better job of raising awareness and telling people it’s OK to ask for help.”



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