The Mental Health Association in Michigan

is the only statewide, non-governmental agency concerned with the broad spectrum of mental illness across all age groups.

April 2, 2021

Letter from Lansing – January 2021

Welcome to the January 2021 edition of MHAM’s monthly newsletter that provides you with public policy updates and other information that impacts the behavioral health care of you and those you love. We also wish you and yours a happy new year!

January is almost over. Although it is the first month of the new year, much has happened at the federal and state level. The events of January 6, 2021 are at the forefront of our minds as many of us in America are still trying to make sense of what happened at the United States Capitol on that date. Since that time, we have watched as a new administration entered the White House on January 20 and along with the new president, there will be a new cabinet and that includes a new Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

In our state of Michigan, the chief of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Robert Gordon, resigned his post on Friday, January 22. His position is being filled by Elizabeth Hertel who has worked in the MDHHS for many years. She is also the wife of Senator Curtis Hertel, Jr. who has been the minority vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Community Health and Human Services.

Michigan also has a new Speaker of the House, Rep. Jason Wentworth and new members of the state house. Changes in leadership at key agencies and in the legislature usually heralds the possibility of public policy changes. MHAM will be paying attention.

As I write these words, Governor Whitmer will be giving her annual “State of the State” address this evening at 7 PM. It will be quite different this year because her address will be done virtually as opposed to being held with members of the legislature present.

We are living in a “new normal.” But this “new normal” includes an increasing number of individuals in our state who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Since March of last year, COVID-19 has been the driving force behind the significant increase in the numbers of people who report feeling depressed and anxious. However, the instability in the political environment and the ongoing specter of racism and injustice has also been a factor.

Paul Gionfriddo, CEO of Mental Health America, reported the following on January 8, 2021, following the events at the United States Capitol

FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 2021 Statement from Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America The mental health of the nation appears to have been demonstrably and negatively affected by Wednesday’s DC riot. This is not a surprise, but it should be yet another wakeup call that all is not well with our mental health in America.

On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, 11,768 people completed a screening using Mental Health America’s free, online mental health screening program ( Most of those screenings occurred before the reality of the riot sunk in.

Of those screened, 23.37% cited “current events*” as one of up to three reasons they chose for their mental distress at the time they screened. 5.40% cited “racism.” (Read full article HERE)

At the Mental Health Association in Michigan, our interest is ensuring those with mental health conditions and addictions have access to quality behavioral health services. We are evaluating the challenges these individuals must navigate daily. We are analyzing systemic barriers and asking ourselves critical questions such as, “why do individuals with mental illness land in jails and prisons as opposed to receiving appropriate treatment?” Or “why is mental health funding reduced when it is just as important as physical health care?” Although the pandemic has overwhelmed the physical health care systems, the mental health care delivery systems have also been stretched in various ways. The problem is the public mental health system has been stretched and underfunded for years —long before COVID-19 was a consideration let alone a reality.
Regardless of an individual’s age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, race, religion or sexuality, mental illness can and does happen to anyone. Our goal at MHAM is always to pay attention to public policy decisions that may prove to be helpful or hurtful to adults and kids who struggle with mental health issues. We plan on continuing to be the “voice of those who have no voice.”

We recognize our current public mental health system is rife with systemic barriers that interfere with the ability of an individual to get help, especially if the person lacks health insurance. Something must be done to rectify this situation, particularly for those adults and children who are not eligible for Healthy Michigan Medicaid. One of MHAM’s public policy initiatives for 2021-2022 is to address the lack of state General Fund dollars in the community mental health system. In our state, only the community mental health system is mandated to provide 24/7 access to emergency services that include psychiatric evaluation and inpatient hospitalization if it is required. This is problematic if the system does not have enough funds.

COVID-19 has pushed many of us in Michigan to our emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, and psychological limits. We have lived through a pandemic; overwhelming economic uncertainty; anxiety about the future of our nation; and concerns about “when” it all will be “over”. We do not know the answer to that question. COVID-19 reminds me of the raptors in Jurassic Park who tested the weaknesses in the electrified fence systematically. In the same way, COVID-19 has not only tested the weaknesses in our health care system, but it has revealed them. MHAM will continue to examine what has been revealed by the pandemic as it begins its advocacy on behalf of all persons in Michigan with mental health conditions and addictions. Stay tuned as we provide you with public policy updates over the next year.

To read the full January 2021 newsletter, please CLICK HERE.