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UP sheriff urges public to call for mental health services

An Upper Peninsula sheriff in Michigan’s smallest county is making a public plea for more mental health treatment after a young driver smashed a car into trees to try to end a life.

A Facebook post, with a photo of the crumpled car, has been shared more than 6,000 times this week, more than three times the population of Keweenaw County.

“In the past month we have transported several people who were looking for help to be evaluated by our local mental health,” Sheriff Curt Pennala’s office said. “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?”

The young driver survived the crash and was sent home with a “safety plan,” the social media post said.

“This does not sit well with us! ... Contact your state representatives, contact your mental health board and help us figure out how we can fix this problem. These are our brother, sisters, sons and daughters who are crying out for help,” the sheriff’s office said.

Pennala said he wasn’t criticizing Copper Country Mental Health Services, which serves a four-county region. He said it does a “fantastic job” but has its “hands tied” by a lack of money.

In February 2020, another Upper Peninsula sheriff in Chippewa County lamented a lack of mental health services for a man accused of a crime. The man had to remain in jail for months while waiting for a spot at a state psychiatric hospital.