Addressing mental health

About 15 million Americans suffer from a severe mental illness.
Krystle Wagner
Dec 24, 2012


Dr. Michael Brashears, executive director of Community Mental Health of Ottawa County, said they serve more than 200 individuals with severe mental illnesses. But there are many more who go without treatment, he said.

Although Brashears said there are many mental illnesses, 10 or 11 are prominent locally — including major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“We have folks in our county that can’t get mental health treatment because they’re not eligible for Medicaid,” he said. “It’s very difficult to get treatment because funding isn’t there.”

Brashears said 90 percent of mental health funding in the community comes from the state Medicaid program, leaving 10 percent of the local budget to fund treatment of people without insurance.

When people go without treatment, Brashears said it becomes increasingly difficult to attend to basic needs or functions, such as sleeping and holding down a job. Some people may have altering thoughts — hear, see or feel things that aren’t real — or have extreme beliefs and thoughts about the world.

The cost, lack of access to services and the inability to admit they have a problem are some of the reasons people with mental health issues might not seek treatment, Brashears said.

Sarah Lewakowski, executive director of Tri-Cities Ministries in Grand Haven, expressed the importance of reaching out and not becoming isolated from the community. She’s had many clients tell her they've been considering asking for help for a year or longer.

“It is hard to make that decision,” Lewakowski said.

Some of the ways Community Mental Health in Ottawa County helps people is by providing therapy, prescribing medications, employment assistance, and helping them remain active and part of the community.

Brashears encourages people to make the attempt in getting the help they need.

“You have nothing to lose when you’re trying to improve your life,” he said.


For information about mental health services, call Community Mental Health of Ottawa County Customer Services at 616-494-5545, or e-mail

The county mental health agency's Help Line is available 24/7 at 866-512-4357.




If a person is looking for counseling in the Tri-Cities, either with insurance or with a sliding scale, please contact Tri-Cities Ministries Counseling at (616) 842-9160. If you live, work, or worship in the Tri-Cities, you will not be turned away.


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