ACT helps adults living with serious mental illness maintain independence and community

North Country Community Mental Health ACT Team. Left to right, back row: Dr. John Gherman, Kelsey Fettig, Amy Carey, Laura Tanton. Front Row: Carla Miller, Dee Whittaker.This article is part of MI Mental Health, a new series highlighting the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from North Country Community Mental Health, Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, and its community mental health (CMH) agency members. 

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) engages adults living with serious mental illness in continuous care, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. An evidence-based approach, ACT offers individualized, comprehensive services that meet the person where they’re at —  at home, hospitalized, in jail, or on the street. ACT teams provide behavioral health therapy, help with medications, and access to community resources as well as social, educational, and vocational activities.

Approximately 100 ACT teams work with community mental health agencies in Michigan. Initiated in the '70s, ACT is credited with reducing the need for hospital services, increasing housing stability, and helping Michiganders living with mental illness believe in and move toward recovery. 

Dee Whittaker, ACT Team leader/supervisor for North Country Community Mental Health (NCCMH), talked with MI Mental Health about how ACT supports people living with serious mental illness.

Dee Whittaker, NCCMH ACT Team leader/supervisor Q. Why is it important for people with serious mental illness to maintain independence in the community?

A. Why is it important for anyone to do that? There is no difference between a person who has cancer or diabetes or any other illness than a person living with mental illness. It is important for all people to maintain independence and a community as much as they possibly can. If we are talking about them living independently all by themselves, a lot of people [living with serious mental illness] don't do that very well. But they can with natural supports. They still live with their parents, with their spouses, or a sibling. If natural supports aren't there, there are alternatives such as adult foster care homes.

Q. How does the NCCMH ACT team help?

A. Our team tries to help people live as independently as they choose to and to live where they want to. We help make sure that they understand communications and get their medications. We also teach people how to recognize their triggers, use their coping skills, and know what to do. An illness is an illness and can go in and out of remission at any time at no fault of the person. We might teach a person how to budget, connect with other resources, or monitor their symptoms. They have access to us 24/7. We can consult with a doctor or maybe they just need a quick person to talk to. We’re there.

It’s not like we’re seeing them once or twice a month. They see us multiple times throughout the week. One day, they might see the nurse. Two days later, they might see the social worker. Three days later, the counselor might be there. It depends. We all get to know them, and they get to know us. Also, we don't drag people into the office because that's not a natural environment. We truly meet people where they are at — at their house, going to Walmart, down at the park. We try to meet people and get to know them in their own environment, because then we can truly see what are the areas that they're struggling with.

Q. Who is eligible and how do they get this help?

A. To be eligible for ACT, a person must be diagnosed with a chronic, persistent, severe mental illness. It's not an illness that's going to be cured. It's going to be managed. I've had 18-year-olds, and I've had 75-year-olds. ACT is mostly a referral program. I've had people [enroll] who have just come out of the hospital. They need to take their medications every day and they're not able to do that. If a person is getting community mental health services, they could talk to their caseworker or their doctor and say, ‘Hey, is ACT something that’s right for me?’ A very few times, people have come into the program during their assessment intake. It might be a person who's new to the area or who's had services before.

Q. How does ACT involve the people it serves in social activities?

A. In Northern Michigan, we have all kinds of activities. But we find that adults that have issues with anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia have, at times, a harder time getting to know people or going out and doing things. NCCMH has two clubhouses. And, with ACT, if somebody has social anxiety and they can't go grocery shopping, we can go with them. Or we might go with a small group to the fair or to Art in the Park. We help by role-modeling and letting people practice conversations with us, too. We do art groups, mindfulness groups — we always have these geared towards mental health awareness, health and wellness, or coping skills. I've seen good, long-lasting friendships among some of the people that we serve.

North Country Community Mental Health Connect with an ACT program.

ACT’s goal is to help those living with serious mental illness to live as independently as possible — and to achieve the same aspirations most everyone seeks, for example, a good education, a decent job, a happy home, and healthy relationships with friends and family. The NCCMH ACT program serves people living in Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Kalkaska, and Otsego counties. To access NCCMH services, call 877-470-7130. NCCMH also has a Crisis Help Line: 877-470-4668 (TTY/TDD: dial 711). For information on other local ACT teams providing services in Michigan, click here:  Get Help Now -Behavioral Health (

Estelle Slootmaker is project editor for the MI Mental Health Series. Contact her at

Photos courtesy North Country Community Mental Health.
Helping hands photo: SHVETS production via Pexels.

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, Center for Health and Research Transformation, Genesee Health System, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, North Country CMH, Northern Lakes CMH Authority, OnPoint, Sanilac County CMH, St. Clair County CMH, Summit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.

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