Advocates hope for more attention to mental health

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By MORGAN WOMACK
Capital News Service

LANSING – As the state enters a new legislative session with Democrats in control, the Mental Health Association in Michigan is eyeing the lawmakers to address issues like addiction and health care. 

One hopeful sign is the creation of a subcommittee on behavioral health, chaired by Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township, a clinical psychologist. 

Marianne Huff, the president and CEO of the association, called the new subcommittee “refreshing.”

“We’re looking at that really positively as a way of saying it seems like there will be some real focus on mental health,” Huff said. “Everybody has spoken for years about how we need to improve mental health, particularly community mental health.”

Brabec said the new subcommittee will tackle improving access to mental health services, such as making transportation more accessible, and changing hospital systems to accommodate more patients and staff. 

When Brabec began in the psychology field, she said mental health care offered patients more options for hospitalization and outpatient programs.

“There was a much more robust system that really helped scaffold people so that there was the appropriate level of support for what they needed when they needed it,” Brabec said. “I have seen that erode over the decades.”

Brabec said she previously hosted a “mental health tour,” taking the Democratic caucus in the House to hear from experts across the state. She said the new subcommittee’s priorities draw from what lawmakers learned on the tour. 

“My brain is constantly thinking about how can we serve clients better,” Brabec said. “And how do we get people the help that they need?”

Huff said the Mental Health Association is expected to take stances on a wide range of policies this year, including children and family issues and equality in mental health treatment.

It also monitors the state budget to see what is allocated for mental health.

“Because we have a brand-new legislative session, we’re still trying to figure out where we want to put our energies,” Huff said. 

Last session, the association monitored two major Republican proposals: one in the Senate for a “mental health code” and “social welfare act,” and one in the House to create a single statewide prepaid inpatient health plan. Neither made it through the Legislature.

“When things like that come up, we reformulate a position and we think about how we want to approach it,” Huff said.

Huff said she can’t be sure what other issues will come up in the Legislature for the association to tackle this year. 

She said the association also works on educating the public.

“Part of (our education initiatives) is trying to bring awareness of the need to ensure that every Michigan citizen has access to mental health services, regardless of the severity of the condition and substance abuse treatment,” Huff said.