For his first piece as NAMI Washtenaw’s volunteer reporter, John Dunn interviewed advocacy lead, Mark Creekmore. In his interview, Mark describes his pathway to NAMI Washtenaw, some of his proudest achievements, and some areas that he feels will be most critical to focus on in the coming years.
By John Dunn, NAMI Washtenaw County reporter
NAMI Washtenaw County (NAMI WC) relies on the efforts of its advocacy team, headed up by Mark Creekmore, to promote justice and the general welfare for the most vulnerable populations in our county and across state, national, and even beyond our borders.
Mark began his career by completing a master’s in social work and PhD in sociology, which he used to secure positions of influence in institutional systems. For years, he worked to deinstitutionalize the juvenile corrections system by providing key implementation services for seventeen group homes here in Michigan. Mark also played a major role in programs that provided individuals living in group homes a means to transition to independent living. Mark also became involved in local training for police agencies and worked in a university setting providing education in mental health to help as response units attempted to de-escalate crisis situations upon the closing of state institutions. After several years in the corrections system, Mark turned more fully to mental health work and joined NAMI WC, where he served as President for a few years, and eventually brought his cumulative experience to the field of advocacy, where he serves today.
Mark considers his involvement in the passing of 2017 millage legislation for mental health and public safety, along with his work in establishing the 988 national call center system for mental health education and crisis services, his most important work with the advocacy team. The 2017 millage legislative act provided funding for local Community Mental Health providers to expand their services to provide for crisis intervention and fund various police services such as the Washtenaw County Sheriff Department, allowing them to better serve the city of Manchester. Additionally, Mark has done great work in assisting Avalon Housing with initiatives in Dexter and elsewhere in the county. Mark is extremely optimistic about the 988 call centers, which he says should be available locally around July 2022; however, it may take several years for the service to spread nationwide and to become fully coordinated with 911 emergency services.
As an advocate for mental health services and support systems in the state of Michigan, Mark works with other agencies in the state as well. For example, he serves as a board member for the Mental Health Association of Michigan and works with NAMI affiliates in Grand Traverse and Lansing. As a professional in both the legislative and advocacy fields, he enjoys a close working relationship with our state legislators who serve Washtenaw County and their local sheriff deputies, whom he has become involved with through the Inter-Faith Council for Peace and Justice. In the legislative arena, Mark’s team has closely followed recent initiatives to integrate physical and mental health care to ensure that treatment occurs in a clinical setting. With his close ties to local legislators, Mark appears optimistic that those who suffer mental health conditions will be better served; however, he adds that we have a long way to go with the current legislative proposals which are now out of committee. According to Mark, true advocacy consists of “active bystandership” which in his own words means, “If you see things, you can help.” To promote this end, Mark would like to see more education and awareness in the community to serve vulnerable populations.
Mark views the lack of children’s mental health care services as the primary deficiency in the current mental health system. He would like to see more funding for child treatment services and cites the “KB Lawsuit” as a call to action to step up funding for these services. Mark would also like to see more short-term in-patient services for mental health patients and day treatment services that allow patients to transition more easily back into the community.
Mark is aware that anyone can suffer from mental illness regardless of whether they are experiencing a crisis. For example, anyone can experience mild depression or anxiety, especially due to factors arising from recent events such as the pandemic. For this reason, he places a lot of emphasis on the importance of the 988 call centers he described to me. In addition to providing mental health support in the event of a crisis, the 988 call centers would provide mobile crisis teams and response units to allow for de-escalation in the event of a crisis. Obviously, a lot more work needs to be done in the arena of advocacy for those suffering from any form or degree of mental illness, as suicide rates have only gone up in the past few years and the situation is only getting worse.
Mark’s long-term vision for NAMIWC is to reach out to rural areas of the county and allow for greater access to local facilities. As is common in all areas of life, Mark encourages everyone to find an area which they are passionate about and “follow their passion.”
John began his journey over twenty-five years ago with a psychotic break in which he experienced several religious thoughts and delusions which were out of touch with reality or true spirituality. Throughout the years following his diagnosis as an adult who struggles with schizoaffective disorder, he has received formal education in religious studies and philosophy while praying and studying the “big picture” of mental illness and the “bigger questions” of life. Through his religious studies courses he received an understanding of his inner being which includes his diagnosis as well as the “big picture” of how he would feel if he were mentally and emotionally stable. Through his education in philosophy, he came to an understanding of how to reach this state through a logical approach to his therapy. It is his desire to share this journey which he will continue throughout the remainder of his mortal life with his audience.