Join us for for a panel discussion on Thursday, June 3 at 9 am.
Children and adolescents in Michigan and throughout the U.S. are experiencing alarming increases in the prevalence of mental, emotional, and behavioral health conditions. Although mental health concerns have been rising at a rapid pace while the nation contends with COVID-19, this trend (along with its underlying causes and risk factors) was underway long before the coronavirus pandemic began.
Mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders are a major source of morbidity for children and adolescents and have become the most common illnesses that children under the age of 18 experience in the United States. Approximately 1 in 5 youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder, resulting in significant impairment for 1 in 10 youth. The problem is not only large, but also growing, with increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation in America’s youth. The number of youths experiencing a major depressive episode (MDE) has nearly doubled over the last decade, and suicide has risen to the second leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults, surpassed only by motor vehicle fatalities.
Despite this serious and growing problem, many youths are not able to access needed treatment. Among Michigan’s youth experiencing any mental illness, more than a third are not receiving care (with even larger gaps for substance use disorders). The problem of access is complex, due in no small part to both provider shortages and a maldistribution of services. Stigma and other social factors coupled with uncertainties about care seeking also create barriers for youth in need of behavioral health services.
Schools are uniquely suited to assist youth with their mental health concerns. Youth spend most of their time within school buildings, providing a greater chance for the identification of a mental health concern and referral to treatment in this educational milieu than exist even in conventional settings (such as doctors’ offices, places of worship, or even the home). As places centered around learning, schools are also the perfect vector to deliver information about mental health and teach skills that foster resilience. Because schools are also venues of socialization and psychological development, they are important venues for dismantling stigma and normalizing treatment-seeking behaviors.
The specter of a growing youth mental health crisis will not be exorcised with any single policy or intervention—this is a multidimensional problem that requires numerous complex solutions; however, one multifaceted and often-overlooked solution is the expansion of school-based health centers. School-based (and school-linked) health centers are clinics located within or adjacent to schools that provide a wide array of medical and behavioral health services. These centers may be operated by hospital systems, federally qualified health centers, or by governmental entities (i.e., local public health departments). School-based health centers can provide economical, easy access behavioral health services to youth, and can facilitate destigmatization and foster treatment-seeking behaviors throughout the formative years for children and adolescents.
While collocation of health care providers and school campuses offers a proven way to improve access to and utilization of behavioral health services, school-based health centers also offer schools a valuable partner for collaboration on population-level interventions within school buildings and/or districts. School-based health centers may be used as a catalyst and resource to foster health-improving innovations to school operations and curricula, offering a means to proactively improve youth mental health while also fostering resilience and health-enhancing behaviors that will follow students into adulthood.
Tim Michling, Research Associate for the Citizens Research Council will present the findings of a pending publication. A panel comprised of education, business, and the mental health sectors will react to the Research Council paper, including:
Christy Buck, Executive Director, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan
Ron Koehler, Superintendent, Kent ISD
Kevin Stotts, President, Talent 2025