10 Road Blocks to Mental Health Services in the State of Michigan

I am a parent of an 11-year-old son who has severe emotional impairment and behavioral problems. These are the roadblocks that I have encountered while fighting for mental health services in the State of Michigan:

  1. Communication. There is a major lack of effective communication between agencies (judicial, mental health, education, medical). We have lots of misinformation and problems getting clarification.
  2. Beds. There are not enough beds in mental hospitals or facilities. Our son has visited the ER something like 30 times in the last two years, and 90% of the time he is sent home after a couple of days because there are no beds available. He has been to two state hospitals and had 3-4 visits at Pine Rest, but it is still very hard to find a bed for him. We understand that staffing is also a problem. There needs to be well-trained and valued staff in these facilities. It is a hard job, but lack of training can be disastrous.
  3. Services that have age limits. There are limited services for a younger population with mental health problems. He is currently 11 and therefore does not qualify for the majority of programs intended for youth because of his age.
  4. Detention. Our son is on probation for multiple charges of DV, assault, and assaults with deadly weapons. He is currently sitting in detention because we cannot find a safe placement for him anywhere else. Although he does have a lot of behavioral problems, detention will not benefit him as much as a residential program would.
  5. Law enforcement. We have had the police over several times a month, every month, for the past year for anything from assault to eloping across town. Most of the time they are very helpful and aware there is a mental health component to this situation, but more mental health training for officers would probably be really effective. There have been times that our son as run from or physically fought with officers and thankfully they were aware of his situation and did not need to escalate the situation which could have easily been justified, but we worry about his future with law enforcement as he gets bigger and stronger.
  6. Medicaid. We have been denied placements, services, and testing because we have Medicaid for our son and our private insurance cannot handle this level of needs. We know that with private insurance, it is much easier to get some of these services, but that is difficult or impossible for many families in situations like ours. Navigating insurance is overwhelming.
  7. Respite. There are few options for respite for our family. While our son is home, we are all on high alert and live in constant chaos and danger. There are virtually no places where our son can go (like summer camps, events, even summer school) due to his level of severity. It is difficult to find options for him and as parents we are exhausted and overwhelmed by trying to keep him, our other children, our animals, and our community safe from him and to keep him safe from himself.
  8. Diagnosis. At one point our son carried the ASD diagnosis, which was dropped after moving to Michigan. Simply dropping that diagnosis changed so many therapy or service options that would have been available to him. He has FASD which is little recognized, often ignored, and has no treatment centers, therapy programs etc. devoted to that disability. Although he has other comorbid diagnosis, the FASD is the one that should be recognized and treated primarily. There needs to be more training across the board for FASD as it is the most common form of developmental disability, but it isn’t recognized or understood across the broad spectrum of community services.
  9. CMH. Network 180 is our CMH, and we spent the first 6 months after we moved to MI desperately trying to get services put in place, but no one in any place we called, told us that we had to go through 180 because we are on Medicaid. We spent hours on the phone trying to get it figured out, but all we needed was one person to tell us to go to 180 and we could have gotten into services much quicker. The system is very frustrating to parents.
  10. Prevention. There needs to be more effort put into supporting family units to prevent foster placements, unmet mental health needs, and the disastrous effects on the family of living with a child with mental health problems. The earlier and easier it is to access services, the better the outcome in terms of long-term support. These children should not be held accountable for the choices of their
    parents or of the system that fails them. They need as much support as they can get so that they can heal and become productive members of society.

These are some of the frustrations that I have personally found while fighting for support and mental health services in the State of Michigan for our family, but I know that I am not alone. I spend a lot of time talking with other adoptive parents who have similar struggles and who are just as frustrated and the thing I hear the most is “the system is broken and needs a major overhaul in all of its parts”. It is an overwhelming task, but something needs to be done and quickly. We are fighting on our end, and we ask that the leadership in this state fights on their end to help ensure a better future for our children.