Mental health and ending stigma focus of local group | News, Sports, Jobs

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette
Michelle Morgan, Ph.D., formerly with Copper Country Mental Health, was the keynote speaker at a mental health awareness presentation at the Keweenaw County Courthouse in May 2021. The audience comprised approximately 18 attendees in person, while many more listened and commented via Zoom. The two-hour presentation was to provide information on the public mental health services available in the western Upper Peninsula — as well as those that are not, and why.

HOUGHTON — A mental health awareness presentation conducted by Keweenaw County Sheriff Curt Pennala in May 2021, publicly addressed several topics and included more than a dozen panelists from many local organizations as well as law enforcement agencies.

The presentation stemmed from a social media post on the page of the Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office in response to a young individual having attempted suicide in the county during the first week of May. The panel met to discuss mental health services available, as well as what is missing.

Michelle Morgan, former medical director at Copper Country Mental Health (now retired), was the key speaker at that event and she said since that initial meeting, people have stepped forward to organize a group that will advocate for and support mental health in the area.

“At that meeting, I had posted a link that people could check out if they were interested,” said Morgan, “and more than 20 people signed up.”

Morgan said the interest resulted in the forming of a group called Keweenaw Suport 4 Healthy Minds.

“We’ve been meeting once a month since last July,” she said, “and we now have monthly meetings on the last Tuesday of every month, at 6:30 p.m. at the Portage Lake District Library, in Houghton.”

Morgan said so far, the group has developed its mission statement and its vision. In Sept. the group brought in a speaker to talk about depression and suicidal thinking, and currently they are working on additional projects for 2022.

The vision, said Morgan, is to support healthy minds through connection and community.

The mission and value statements that the Keweenaw Solutions 4 Healthy Minds suicide prevention coalition has created are:

– Talk more openly about mental health:

– Increase awareness about mental health.

– Educate groups about how to listen/talk about mental health (health care).

– Reduce stigma and shame.

– Empower people with lived experience.

– Build a resilient community:

– Increase awareness of what leads to crises.

– Educate community about healthy coping with stress.

– Decrease access to means for harm as part of basic home safety.

– Support those at risk:

– Educate community about how to manage a crisis.

– Build a support network, include advocates who know the systems.

– Improve communication about resources.

In talking more openly about mental health, said Morgan.

“That takes various forms,” she said, “including bringing that speaker here last Sept., but in general, wanting to reduce stigma, so that people are much more willing to get help when they need it.”

The second area of focus is helping people to become more resilient.

“We’re all under stress, particularly in the past couple years,” she said, “and it’s effecting everyone’s mental health.”

There are things people can do to support each other, she said: skills people can learn to help in coping with those stressors, which will hopefully reduce the likelihood of a crisis.

The third focus is to support people who are at risk. This includes developing connections with advocates who are familiar with available services.

“Our ultimate goal,” explained Morgan, “is to have a network of people who can directly support people who need that extra support.”

Morgan said the public is invited and encouraged to attend the monthly meetings.

“We are looking for ordinary people to join our group,” she said. “Just for example, we have people in the group who have experienced depression, or anxiety. We have members who are parents of people who have mental illness.”

Sheriff Curt Pennala, she said, is a member of the group.

“There is a wide variety of people, so we’re not all professionals,” Morgan said, “and we’re really trying to be a grassroots group that trying to spread the message throughout the Copper Country.”

For more information on the group, please see their Facebook page at

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