Northern Michigan Counties ‘Stepping Up’ to Help Those Struggling with Mental Illness

Counties across Northern Michigan are ‘stepping up’ to prevent those with mental illness from ending up in jail.

Grand Traverse, Emmet, Cheboygan and Antrim are some of the latest counties to adopt the Stepping Up initiative.

Charlevoix County was one of the first adopting it back in 2015.

“You’re not going to find a sheriff  that’s not dealing with the mental health crisis that’s occurring right now,” said Charlevoix County Sheriff Chuck Vondra

Back in 2015, Charlevoix County adopted the Stepping Up initiative hoping to connect those with mental illness with health service providers, and keep them out of jail.

“If you can imagine someone with mental illness sitting in a jail that only furthers the problem with their mental illness,” Sheriff Vondra said.

Wayne State University collected data from the department to identify the number of run-ins they had with those suffering from a mental illness.

“We have that data of what we could have done, and now we’re looking to apply that on what we can do and should do in the future,” Sheriff Vondra said.

North Country Community Mental Health is working with the Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are working on strategy right now with Charlevoix,” said Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Stacey Chipman.

Dr. Chipman says this initiative is unique.

“It’s a community response, it’s not ‘it’s your job CMH, it’s your job the sheriff, it’s your job the court,’ we are all coming together to see how we can break down those barriers to getting people access,” Dr. Chipman said.

One thing they are looking at is a form for patrol officers.

It would be given to those who may be battling mental illness, but are not a risk to themselves or others.

“When you don’t know who to call, what do you do?” Sheriff Vondra said. “You call for the police.”

The form would connect them with mental health services.

“We’ve identified resources in our county, our community that will provide help to those people,” Sheriff Vondra said.

And those services would then be able to reach out and follow up.

“The brain is just another organ in the human body, and it gets sick, and somebody shouldn’t get punished for being sick, they should get treatment, they should get help for that,” Dr. Chipman said.