Sheriff spot on in mental health services assessment

Many thanks to Keweenaw County Sheriff Curt Pennala for getting the discussion going about mental health and the need to improve the system here in the state of Michigan.

A recent vehicle crash is what prompted Pennala to post on his department’s social media site. A young person from Pennala’s community had slammed a vehicle into a stand of trees at nearly 100 mph. The cause of the crash was this young driver’s decision to die by suicide.

The attempt failed and the person driving the car had their physical wounds tended to, but after a mental assessment was found not to be a danger to themselves and was sent home. Sent with them was a “safety plan.”

Pennala said the main reason for the post was his department’s expressing its frustration and to raise awareness of what law enforcement is dealing with, as well as what the public also is dealing with.

The post read, in part: “As Sheriffs, we are elected to protect all the citizens in our counties, including those who may be going through difficult times. In the past month, we have transported several people who were looking for help, to be evaluated by our local Mental Health. Do you want to take a guess on how many received treatments? None. When are we going to have a meaningful discussion on the broken Mental Health system in Michigan?”

Pennala said he wants to be clear that this is not aimed at Copper Country Mental Health.

“They do a fantastic job,” he said. “I believe that they have their hands tied by a lack of funding and a lack of resources,” then added that the people and agencies his office works with share the same frustrations.

“In our local community, I think a lot of people share the frustration of the lack of mental health resources available.”

The responses Pennala’s social media post received touched on many of the issues surrounding the lack of mental health care.

Pennala said a frustrating element is that along with the lack of resources, someone may be in a situation that finally compels him or her to reach out for help, only to be turned away at that point.

“They may never reach out for help again,” he said, “until it’s too late.”

Pennala said that he believes it is time that society recognizes that seeking help with mental health is no different than seeking medical assistance.

We could not agree more. We hope the discussion about how to fix the broken system spreads across our great state. If we all work together, we can help those in mental health crisis get the assistance they truly need and deserve.

Many lives would be saved in the process.


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