Community mental health brings Sawyer Auger to Sanilac County: “It’s OK to not be OK"

Sawyer Auger “It’s OK to not be OK” Tour stops in Sandusky May 26 for a free concert aimed at eliminating stigma around mental illness.
Sanilac County Community Mental Health (SCCMH) works hard to eliminate the stigma that keeps county residents from seeking help for mental illness. From community trainings in Mental Health First Aid and kids summer camps to radio spots and Facebook videos, SCCMH actively spreads the word that help for mental health is available — and there’s no shame in seeking it. This Memorial Day weekend, SCCMH has something even grander in mind: hosting Sawyer Auger in concert as part of his “It’s OK not to be OK” Tour

“People are afraid to come to mental health or behavioral health just because of the connotations related to that,” says Wil Morris, CEO of SCCMH. “I think they feel it denotes weakness and that there's a problem. In reality, we all suffer from mental health issues throughout our lifespan. I mean, that's just a part of living.”

A singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, California, Auger mixes soul, pop, and classic rock. During his shows, he sheds “some light on the dark stigma around mental health.” His goal is to make mental health an easy conversation.

“I think mental illness is something in the world today that everyone truly does have. But unfortunately, it's something that no one can see. And it's a battle that we fight every day,” Auger says. “We take care of our physical health all the time, but we really don't take care of our mental health like we should. If we didn't have that big of a stigma around it, more people would talk about it. And then we could all feel not so alone about our mental health and feel more of a community.”

When the COVID lockdowns happened, Sawyer, like many, found himself alone at home all the time — and having a hard time dealing with it.

“I would go live, put on a happy face, and do my music and pretend that everything was okay,” Auger says. “And then, I started being brutally honest with people. ‘You know, today I feel depressed,’ or ‘I feel anxiety for no reason.’ Instead of fighting that feeling and not talking about it, I decided I was going to say, ‘It is okay that I feel this way, and I'm just going to embrace it.’ By doing that, I realized other people felt the same way. It kind of caught on like wildfire.”

Auger will perform the free concert at the Courthouse Gazebo in Sandusky from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday May 26. The Thumb Opioid Response Consortium and Sandusky Arts Council have joined SCCMH as sponsors. Auger, a former “The Voice” and “American Idol” contestant, has five albums to his credit. 

Wil Morris, CEO Sanilac County Community Mental Health"Auger shows us a success story. He’s someone who has lived experience and can say, ‘Just because I've had these difficulties, that doesn't mean I can't be successful.’ It paints behavioral health issues in a completely different light — and it gives more hope,” Morris says. “I can share that message about stigma a million times over — the community expects me to say it, so it doesn't have the same impact."

In addition to bringing his anti-stigma message on tour, Auger will be releasing a book, “It's All in Your Head,” that tells stories he has collected from people around the world. Next to each story, Auger shares his interpretation of the story as a song lyric.

“Then, you can go online and listen to the whole song as another avenue to relate to other people and realize that even though you might feel alone in a certain situation, you really are not,” Auger says.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Other Michigan community mental health agencies also are hosting May events that focus on eliminating stigma. St. Clair County CMH’s Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies Run for Recovery takes place May 13, 2023. The North Country CMH 23rd Annual Splash of Color Fun Run & Walk for Mental Health Awareness takes place on May 20 in Petoskey. In Calhoun County, the Summit Pointe Mental Health and Wellness Walk takes place May 24. And the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan hosts its annual Stomp Out Stigma 5K Walk for Mental Health on May 20.

“As we reduce those stigmas, it makes access to care easier for folks, as well as encourages our loved ones to receive services,” Morris concludes. “A lot of times if we have a loved one who's suffering, we either avoid the conversation or we don't know how to help them. If we had a loved one who had cancer or a heart attack, we would make them meals and take their kids to their school activities so that they could recuperate. We don't do those kinds of things for behavioral health and that's all related to stigma.”

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

Photos of Sawyer Auger by Kazumi Takahashi.
Photo of Wil Morris by Liz Fredendall.

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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