In her fourth State of the State address this past Wednesday, Governor Whitmer placed a heavy focus on the economy and education. Rounding out the speech was a set of proposals focusing on mental health. Legislative leaders have similarly given more attention to mental health in recent months.
Certainly, claiming valuable real estate in the State of the State speech shows that mental health issues have ascended as a policy priority in Lansing, even as mental health got second billing to the perennial star power of jobs and economic development. The ascendency of this issue reflects the realism that Michigan has little hope for economic success without attending to the health and well-being of its students and workers, and so I was glad to see some long-overdue attention paid to mental health policies.
Citizens Research Council Mental Health Policy Recommendations
In an era of seemingly increasing partisanship and division, it is encouraging to see our state leaders work together on mental health policy across traditional divisions like Democrat/Republican or urban/rural. The epidemic of mental health conditions facing our citizens combined with the structural crises of provider shortages, maldistribution of services, and innumerable barriers to treatment affect people from all walks of life in every corner of our state.
A problem of this scope demands that our leaders work together, and we’ve found that agreement over a common set of facts is often the starting point for meaningful collaboration; the Citizens Research Council of Michigan is proud to have provided this set of facts through numerous reports, blogs, webinars, and other presentations and publications.
A 2015 report highlighted that the majority of Michigan counties had shortages of psychiatric providers. Subsequently, I wrote that Michigan was falling short on mental health services, suggesting the state should consider addressing mental health parity, examining scope of practice laws, and expanding loan repayment options for mental health providers. Last year, Citizens Research Council issued a report focused on behavioral health of children and young adults, wherein I highlighted the lack of school employed health professionals and highlighted the benefits of school-based health services. Other policy options put forth to improve access and quality of behavioral health treatment include behavioral health integration, payment reforms, and adopting a public health approach to reduce mental health risk factors and provide multiple levels of treatment and support.
As numerous Citizens Research Council publications have concluded, effective, efficient, and equitable government services are made possible through high quality data (which enable evaluation and oversight). I’ve repeatedly written that Michigan must do better at collecting a wide range of health data. Ultimately, this means responsible investments in state and local public health.
Action in Lansing
In the Governor’s address, new mental health policy efforts were touted, including efforts to improve access to treatment and achieve true mental health parity, loan forgiveness investments to increase the supply of mental health providers and services, and further expansions of school-based and school-employed health providers. These proposals build on work in the legislature to improve school and community-based mental health services, such as new funding for schools to hire counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists.
I am thrilled to see that Citizens Research Council publications and public awareness efforts on this critical topic have gained some traction with the Governor and leadership in the legislature.
Developing Actionable Policy
Life as a government policy researcher isn’t always glamorous. We proficient purveyors of public policy prowess toil behind the scenes, striving to uncover the facts, identify important policy problems, and formulate a range of solutions that will improve the lives of citizens who are also our friends, neighbors, and community members. This is a slow, laborious process that is in many ways the antithesis of the fast-paced world of politics obsessed with soundbites, electoral mood swings, and quick/easy wins.
Removed from the political fracas, the policy researcher compiles the facts and data, writes as succinct a report as is possible, and endeavors to disseminate the findings with no guarantee the policymakers or members of the public will take the time to read or listen.
I am often reminded of the myth of Cassandra, who was given the gift of prophecy but, as a target of Apollo’s scorn, was cursed so that her predictions would never be believed and her warnings would go unheeded. In 2018, for instance, I wrote that Michigan’s health departments were grossly underfunded and understaffed, leaving the state vulnerable to a variety of public health catastrophes, including infectious disease pandemics.
But public policy researchers are not all Cassandras. With the right partners and supporters, we can amplify our calls for evidence-based policymaking; when the stars align, we can engage with citizens and policymakers to make lasting positive changes.
While current proposals by the governor and members of the legislature represent excellent progress in addressing the mental health issues facing Michiganders, there is much more work that can and should be done. As always, the Citizens Research Council stands ready to advise and support our leaders and policymakers in Lansing and throughout the state.