Last week, I was pleased to participate in a lunch break discussion on youth mental health hosted by Bridge Michigan. The discussion was moderated by health reporter Robin Erb. Included with me on the panel were Dr. Zakia Alavi, staff psychiatrist at LifeWays Community Mental Health in Jackson, and Kevin Fischer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Michigan Chapter.
The conversation began by highlighting increases in behavioral health issues among children and adolescents, contrasted with a lack of resources, support services, and health care access. Kevin Fischer highlighted the turmoil this has caused for youth and their families.
The Citizens Research Council’s recent report, Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Michigan Youth with School-Based Health Services, was held up as a great overview of these topics. There was consensus on the panel that actions are needed to address these growing problems.
When the discussion turned to the shortages of mental health providers and psychiatric hospital beds, the panel acknowledged these issues, but I also pointed out the importance of a public health approach that focuses on screening and prevention – strategies to reduce demand for services are just as important as efforts to increase supply (perhaps more so). The other panelists echoed the need for prevention, and Dr. Alavi pointed out that the lack of reimbursement for prevention (as opposed to moderate to severe illness) created a barrier to increasing preventative efforts.
When the discussion turned to Michigan’s community mental health system, I emphasized the importance of integration. While each panelist had different ideas about the best path to get there, all agreed that integration was an important goal, and that breaking down the outdated barriers between physical and mental health was an important goal.
The conversation concluded with a discussion of solutions, ranging from health care payment reforms and recruitment strategies for behavioral practitioners, to community and school-based solutions to provide support and resources to youth who are struggling (or may struggle in the future). All panelists agreed that it was important to continue work to dismantle stigma and to target new resources to prevention strategies.
The full discussion may be viewed here: