Children and adolescents in Michigan 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. The problem is not only large, but also growing, with increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation among Michigan’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 are unable to access needed treatment. The problem of access to care 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.
Our recently-published research finds that schools are uniquely suited to assist youth with their mental health concerns. Youth spend much of their time within school buildings, providing numerous opportunities for the identification of mental health concerns and referral to treatment in educational settings. As places centered around learning, schools are also the perfect place 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 settings for dismantling stigma and normalizing treatment-seeking behaviors.