Milwaukee County Division of Behavioral Health Makes Mental Health Care Accessible to Everyone | WUWM 89.7 FM


According to CDC data, adults who reported systems anxiety or depression between April 2020 and February 2021 increased 27% from the previous year. In addition, emergency room visits for drug overdoses increased by 36%.

Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, or BHD, Administrator Mike Lappen joins lake effect to help make sense of this discordant data and to cover available resources. Lappen explains that one of the biggest setbacks for BHD is people not knowing about the systems in place to help them. He points out that BHD is filled with experienced professionals who are waiting to serve Milwaukeeans, no matter who they are, their circumstances, their ability to pay or their insurance status.

“For many, tragically, their first contact is with the law enforcement system or with an emergency room that really doesn’t have the tools to help them. So what we’ve tried to do is prioritize a response from the mobile community that meets people where they are, ideally a response that reaches them before they feel the need to go to that emergency room or before they have that contact with the police,” Lappen says.

Similarly, BHD’s Crisis Assessment and Intervention Team (CART) aims to help community members through mental health crises by partnering with the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Office and the Department Milwaukee Police Department. Lappen explains that when the team is dispatched with the police, they connect people with services to meet their needs, such as housing, food or mental health services.

“Data going back since we started, the program basically says that 80% of the time when this team is dispatched to a situation, the outcome is something other than an emergency arrest or detention or an involuntary detention,” says Lappen.

BHD continues to provide support and services to the community while being 40% understaffed. Lappen says community mental health care providers across the country are really struggling right now. He announced that BHD is currently hiring in hopes of filling these gaps.

“We do not miss calls. We’re not dropping the ball here because of the staff right now. But our teams are really stressed. And like everyone else, during the pandemic, these folks haven’t been working from home. They weren’t removed. They have been on the ground throughout this case,” says Lappen. “And we didn’t miss anything.

While these resources are available for those struggling, they are only helpful if loved ones can spot the signs of mental health or addiction crises. Lappen details that these signs include losing interest in things they are passionate about, avoiding social situations, withdrawing from relationships, or mentioning thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

“There is so much stigma around mental health and addiction issues that people often don’t want to reach out. When they finally get to that threshold, things are pretty serious, they’re struggling and they need that help,” says Lappen.

To facilitate this process, BHD is working on a system that will reduce or eliminate barriers to mental help. Last year alone, the organization orchestrated approximately 5,000 mobile crisis visits with the CART team. They are now creating partnerships with health centers in Milwaukee that help connect people to mental health and addiction treatment services.

“Our goal is to make Milwaukee the healthiest community in the state, and mental health and addictions are a big part of that. And helping people with their challenges and kind of de-stigmatizing those needs, and making them just another part of your healthcare image,” says Lappen.

If you or a loved one is looking for mental health or addictions services, you can reach the BHD Crisis Service Line at (414)-257-7222 for 24-hour help. Lappen says the line will put you in contact with resources tailored to your needs, whether it’s a care provider, housing assistance or a visit from the mobile crisis team.

“We’ll help you with whatever level of need you have, whatever your ability to pay, because you don’t need insurance, we want to serve you,” Lappen says.

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