Assisted Outpatient Treatment a key to improving Michigan’s mental health


(Katreva Bisbee is the president of NAMI Lansing, the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Margaret Keeler has been involved with NAMI Lansing since 2002.)

Assisted Outpatient Treatment — AOT —is an effective tool to help individuals with serious mental health conditions who are caught in a cycle of repeat hospitalizations, homelessness and incarcerations.  Michigan law makes AOT possible, possible but education of professionals and the public about AOT has lagged. Continuing education credits are approved for physicians, nurses, and social workers. 

As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, a distinguished panel of speakers appearing at the Hannah Community Center will lay out the evidence for and benefits of AOT and discuss practical challenges in strengthening AOT in Mid-Michigan.  Also known as Kevin’s Law, AOT engages civil courts and mental health systems to work collaboratively and has been shown to dramatically improve treatment outcomes, reduce the likelihood of repeat hospitalizations, decrease criminal justice involvement, and save money. 

Making AOT more widely and equitably available locally can encourage mental illness recovery and reduce the negative impacts of untreated severe mental illness.  Unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and poor quality of life are the staggering consequences of severe and persistent and untreated mental illness.  AOT aims to assist individuals with severe mental illness to engage in treatment and ensure that the mental health system is attentive to their needs.

Individuals who benefit from AOT have a history of inconsistent engagement with treatment often due to diminished awareness of the need for treatment and/or disparities in access to treatment.  The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion each year in the United States.  With early intervention, these costs and risks can be reduced.

Severe mental health conditions can be associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.  Nearly one in five of U.S. adults, experience some form of mental illness, one in 24 has severe mental illness and one in 12 has a substance use disorder.  

The negative impacts of severe mental illness are not limited to the person with the illness but extend to the family members and the community. These impacts may be more pronounced in low and middle-income communities where the treatment gap for mental health disorders is higher. 

We know that all people with mental health conditions do not have the same level of access to care and do not receive the same quality of care.  People of color are less likely to receive mental health services compared to those who are white because of inadequate health insurance, lack of access to quality care, and systemic issues that can impact willingness to seek care.   We need to fight the stigma around mental illness, which is higher among communities of color.

There are practical difficulties in linking the partners needed to effectively and consistently implement AOT. Advocacy from community members, the public and private mental health systems, and local leaders can help overcome these hurdles. Planned strategic meetings to strengthen Assisted Outpatient Treatment in Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties will follow our Oct. 4 program, engaging the appropriate leadership.

Many thanks to our financial sponsors for making this event possible:    Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham Counties (CMHA-CEI), Michigan State University Department of Psychiatry, Michigan State University College of Nursing, Peckham, MSU Federal Credit Union and Tri-County CIT.  We appreciate the support and encouragement of the City of Lansing and the Mayors Mental Health Task Force.



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