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'Every part of the system is broke.' Concerns rise over state of mental health in Michigan

Posted at 3:19 PM, Oct 10, 2022

(WXYZ) — Often when mental health episodes reach a breaking point, police are involved in what has likely already been a struggle for that person and loved ones.

Sadly we've seen tragic outcomes for those suffering from mental illness: their death or the death of a loved one or police.

How police respond to mental health calls

"If I'm having mental problems, issues, and you're saying 'drop the gun, drop the knife,' whatever, to me, I'm looking at you like you're a demon. I'm out of my mind. So you can say whatever you want, but I'm coming to get you," said Steve Dolunt, retired Detroit police assistant chief.

Dolunt points out that someone, even if armed with a knife, can close the gap between them and an officer faster than it can take for an officer to remove their firearm from its holster.

"The officers didn't want to shoot them. We don't come to work saying 'I'm going to kill somebody.' And they have to live with the fact they took someone's life," he said.

RELATED: Managing mental health: Here is a list of Michigan mental health resources

Dolunt adds since they've closed the mental hospitals, we're finding out more and more people are off their medication.

"My son has had several psychiatrists quit him. He's too high level, they can't provide the care that he needs, because he has displayed behaviors that have rearranged their offices. But they will send me a letter and say, 'but he needs to get in and get treatment so don't let that lag,'" said Kathleen Avery.

Avery's son — now in his twenties — has struggled with mental health issues all of his life.

"He can get very violent. I actually have a scar right here from him," she said.

Avery has found frustration with mental health care that is supposed to help her son and others like him.

"Every part of the system is broke. The crisis centers are overfilled, they don't have enough beds, they don't have enough staff, so they send people away. The hospital is the same way," she said.

With hard work — Avery has become her son's best advocate.

In Wayne County, there are free mental health services and resources. The Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network or DWIHN offers services including what's called mental health first aid to help people recognize someone in crisis and how to respond.

"Our hospitals are often filled to capacity. Other mental health resources in the community can sometimes be hard to access or expensive. So telehealth programs have really increased that access to care," said David Yadush, licensed clinical counselor with BetterHelp.

BetterHelp is an online therapy platform. Yadush says it's important to access resources before there's a crisis.

"So that you can have the information that you need in the case of a crisis. It's really hard to think clearly, it's hard to engage in the stuff that we would normally do. But also, that advocacy is what progresses us forward. It's what makes it easier for everyone to have access to these mental health resources to find a therapist to find a psychiatrist if needed," he said.

Dolnut said, "build a mental facility. Pay the people what they deserve and get the people the help they need."

Avery said people need to come together to take action.

"I've spoken to every entity involved. But none of them work together. It's I know of that person. I've heard of that person. They should all be colleagues. Because we're all together going to be able to make a difference here. But no one entity alone can do it," she said.

Her advice to loved ones: Talk to police before you need them.

"I would go to the city that I lived in, asked to talk to a sergeant or lieutenant say, hey, you know, this is my address. This is my loved one. This is diagnosis when you guys come because I will need you several times. This is what I need you to come with. And I have told them you need a calm voice. More numbers is just escalating him, I know you need numbers, but please don't bring them in with you unless necessary," she said.