Connecting to mental health services is as simple as picking up a phone

Have questions about accessing mental health care? Having a mental health crisis? Help is only a phone call away.
Washtenaw County Community Mental Health's Anika Sproull helps a caller.
For Michiganders looking for answers on mental health care or having a crisis, help is only a phone call away, according to several community mental health experts.

“I would just ask them to call us and ask questions,” says Melisa Tasker, a program administrator for Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH), “There's a lot of stigma around mental illness and around mental health treatment. So I would encourage people to call and ask questions.” 

In 2022, 988 became the three-digit number for the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, providing 24/7 crisis access across the country while also increasing awareness about mental health. In Michigan, many community mental health agencies, such as WCCMH, are designated referrals for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, but also have local numbers that provide immediate access to 24/7 crisis teams within a resident’s immediate area.

Melisa Tasker“The best way is to call our main number, 734-544-3050,” Tasker says. “It's a 24-hour, seven-day a week access line and is the line you can call to access our outpatient mental health services for youth and adults, our outpatient IDD programming for youth and adults, our substance use disorder programming, and also our mobile crisis team, which is available 24/7.”

Tasker believes that more people are accessing the services available at WCCMH, which receives about 8,000 calls a month through their crisis line, double the number of calls received in 2019. WCCMH has had an increase in youth and families calling, which Tasker calls “great, because early interventions are really important.”

“It’s a sign that it’s becoming more acceptable and common to get help when your brain gets sick," she says. "The more we can do to normalize that mental health is just like any other health condition, the earlier you get treated, the better off you will be.” 

OnPoint staff, from left, Kaitlin Oakes and Alison Schuyler talk in room where staff and members of the public can meet comfortably.
CCBHCs open more doors to more people

Another key way that access to mental health services has increased has been the certified community behavioral health center program that U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow helped launch. Michigan has more than 30 CCBHCs, including WCCMH and Allegan County’s community mental health agency, OnPoint. Prior to the creation of the CCBHCs, mental health facilities were limited on who they could see due to insurance and the level of severity of the mental health crisis.

“I think that [CCBHCs have] really helped folks,” says OnPoint access point supervisor Alison Schuyler. “We're not turning people away if they want mental health services if they need them. If they need substance use services, we're here to serve them, regardless of insurance status or diagnosis.”

OnPoint staff John Eagle and Madi Shank.OnPoint’s 24/7 crisis mobile response numbers are 269-673-6617 or 800-795-6617. Currently, staff members answer all the calls and schedule appointments. OnPoint is currently overhauling its process to make it even easier for residents to get access to services. Schuyler adds that the goal is to provide same day service by the end of the summer. 

OnPoint’s access overhaul is an example of how CMHs have been breaking down barriers to create more access to residents. However, with more access, more people have been coming in to utilize services, which can create scheduling issues. Insurance creates another series of issues for some people. Regardless, CMHs like OnPoint have open doors and are ready to serve residents facing a mental health crisis. 

“I think that’s the most important thing, just to make that first call, make that first step,” Schuyler says. “If it's not something that we can provide for you, we've got all sorts of resources that we can send to you. For instance, we don't do ADHD testing, but we have a whole list of providers who do in our area. We can make sure that you're not walking away with nothing in hand.”

CMHs provide a number of services to both youth and adults such as case management, wraparound services, group therapy, peer support, and medical services such as psychiatry, rehabilitation services, and respite. They also provide resources for other needs such as food insecurity, applications for benefits like SNAP, Medicare, or Medicaid, and housing. 

Alice plays in a room designed for children in OnPoint.

Continuing to build access and awareness

LifeWays, a Community Mental Health Services Program (CMHSP) and CCBHC serving Jackson and Hillsdale counties, also has a 24-hour crisis line, 517-789-1200 or toll free, 800-284-8288. Callers connect with trained, credentialed staff who are capable of assisting a person via phone. When a phone conversation isn't enough, LifeWays sends its Adult Mobile Crisis or Youth Mobile Crisis team to meet with those in crisis face-to-face.

“Those trained staff would make that decision but it starts with a phone call,” says LifeWays access and crisis services executive director Dave Lowe.

Having the 24/7 access lines stems from the creation of the 988 call line. The goal is for people to know what number to call and where to call for physical emergencies.

“If you are having excruciating chest pains, are you going to feel comfortable enough to make that decision on your own?” Lowe says. “No, you are going to get right to that ER as soon as possible.”

Along with phone access to its Crisis Service Unit, LifeWays' Jackson location has a Crisis Living Room, a calm and safe environment where adults in a mental health crisis can be supported, and a Crisis Residential Unit. 

Rooms designed for children, like this one at OnPoint, provide a setting where families and children feel comfortable accessing services.

In an emergency room setting, the diagnosis may not be a heart attack. But by providing information on what is causing those chest pains, the medical staff helps the patient take a first step to overcoming the issue. Likewise, Lowe shares that when a person visits a mental health facility, they may not leave with a serious diagnosis, but they will have a better understanding of the conflicts and problems they are experiencing. 

“Are folks comfortable to request help?” Lowe says. “I believe it's gotten better, but I don't think we're there yet. I think that's why we exist, to offer those services and service expansions and offer those lines to call, to not only maybe address an immediate crisis, but a lot of what we do on those lines is to inform the community.”

Because stigma around mental health and seeking services remains, it is important to continue advocating and making people aware of the mental health call-line numbers to call and where to go for services.

Lowe concludes, “Advocacy within this field and letting folks know that it's okay to come in here to request help is a very important role that we play in this profession.”

Joanne Bailey-Boorsma has 30-plus years of writing experience having served as a reporter and editor for several West Michigan publications, covering a variety of topics from local news to arts and entertainment. 

On Point photos by John Grap
Anika Sproull, Melisa Tasker, and masthead photos by Doug Coombe

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 MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationLifeWaysMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
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