MANISTIQUE — “Treatment Courts are very effective, so we decided why not start a mental health treatment court,” said Judge Mark Luoma.

It took 2 ½ years of hard work to get to this day. Now, five Upper Peninsula counties: Alger, Schoolcraft, Luce, Mackinac, and Chippewa Counties are part of the Eastern U.P. Regional Mental Health Court.
Like other specialty courts, the mental health court aims to save the lives of those afflicted with mental illness and help them become productive members of society.

“There’s nothing more important than giving the courts the tools to be able to work very closely with other professionals to try and change lives,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kurtis Wilder. “We’re seeing it throughout all of our treatment courts, whether it be a mental health court, drug courts, sobriety courts,” Wilder added.

During his speech in celebration of the court, Justice Wilder said 99% of those who participate and graduate from a mental health court saw an overall improvement in their mental status.

‘We’ve done a lot of good work with a lot of good people over the years, but this is a huge step forward,” said Daniel McKinney, CEO of Hiawatha Behavioral Health. “This is beyond that and it’s going to have a wonderful impact on a lot of people.”

The Eastern U.P. Mental Health Court will cover 74,000 people across 13,644 square miles. Many of the speakers during the ceremony cited the fact that mental health problems effect more than the person dealing with mental issues.

“It affects their families, their friends,” said Karen McDougle, Regional Mental Health Coordinator. “After receiving treatment, they have the ability to go back to being a successful parent, coworker, son or daughter. These programs affect our entire community,” McDougle added.

“When you give them some tools for success, a great majority of the people really grab hold of that. They want to change their lives, they just don’t have the tools to be able to do it,” said Justice Wilder.

“Our vision is that one day we look upon mental illness without stigma and without judgment,” said McKinney. “And we look upon mental illness as brain disease, just like heart disease,” he added.

Michigan was one of the first states to launch regional health courts back in 2015.