NAMI Michigan's Kevin Fischer, "Michigan’s CMHs are the front door"

Since 1979, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has been the nation’s voice on mental illness. The nationwide organization has affiliates in every state and in more than 1,100 local communities across the country. This includes Michigan which has NAMI Michigan along with 15 community affiliates.

As an advocate for mental health, NAMI has provided training to thousands of volunteers, who often have lived experience, to provide peer-led programs in education, skills training, and support in a variety of community settings. The scope of these programs range from managing one's own mental illness to equipping caregivers. Programs are available for adults and children.
MI Mental Health recently had a chance to talk with Kevin Fischer, executive director, NAMI Michigan, about the important role that community mental health agencies play in Michiganders’ mental health.

Q. Can you share a little about NAMI Michigan and its mission?
A. NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI provides advocacy, education, support, and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives. NAMI envisions a world where all people affected by mental illness live healthy, fulfilling lives supported by a community that cares.
Q. NAMI Michigan has worked with several community mental health (CMHs) agencies. How does having CMHs in Michigan help residents?
A. Michigan’s CMHs are the front door for any Michigander affected by any behavioral healthcare disorder, including mental illness, substance use, intellectual and developmental disability, autism, or suicide prevention. Our CMHs provide not only treatment, but the wrap-around services needed to treat the whole person.
Q. How has NAMI Michigan collaborated with CMHs?
NAMI Michigan collaborates with the CMH system in almost every area, primarily as advocates for needed resources for the more than 325,000 people it serves, and also to hold the CMH system accountable to provide services in the least restrictive, professional, and efficient way possible.


Q. Could you highlight some NAMI Michigan projects within the last year?
A. Through our 15 Michigan affiliates, NAMI Michigan focuses heavily on destigmatizing mental illness. We do so through our annual NAMIWalks events in September in Detroit and October in Grand Rapids, which raise awareness, reduce stigma, and educate participants on available resources and how to access those resources. We have our annual state conference in May, which brings together behavioral healthcare professionals, advocates, and persons living with mental illness focusing on relevant information, treatment, trends, etc. We hosted the Crisis Intervention Team International (CITI) Conference in Detroit in August, which included more than 1,600 of the nation’s law enforcement, advocates, behavioral healthcare professionals, and people with lived experience to address best practices in crisis prevention and crisis response. 

In addition, myself and our affiliates host many NAMI Ending the Silence presentations in schools, businesses and places of worship. As president of CIT International, I am working with legislators to establish a statewide, standardized, crisis-response program. We are also working to increase awareness of new resources like the national 988 Crisis and Suicide Prevention Line and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC). 

Q. How do you feel Michigan is doing in the mental health arena? What is the state doing well and what areas could we improve upon?
A. I would give Michigan a “C.” We are making progress but frankly can do better, faster. CCBHCs provide much needed access to resources, but the people who would benefit most are totally unaware of their existence. Crisis response needs to be standardized, but we lack the political will to get it done as other states have. We need to protect our public behavioral healthcare system so the CMHs can focus on providing better service instead of looking over its shoulder in fear of privatization. We need to make sure the people who need services are more aware of what is available to them and how to access them.

NAMI Michigan primarily has focused on being an advocate at the state level for persons affected by mental illness, including children with serious emotional disorders, and has been the leading proponent for consumer and family involvement in care, treatment and recovery. NAMI Michigan works to connect national resources to local affiliates so they can provide support, education and advocacy for mental illness in their communities.

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. 

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 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.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.