A new Citizens Research Council report examines the increase in mental, emotional, and behavioral health troubles facing Michigan’s youth, and makes recommendations for school-based health interventions to head off this growing problem.
What we found:
1. Children and adolescents in Michigan are facing increasing behavioral health challenges and conditions, but Michigan lacks adequate prevention efforts and access to treatment.
2. Untreated behavioral health conditions diminish opportunities for academic, social, and occupational success and often follow youth into adulthood.
3. Youth behavioral health may be addressed through school health personnel, school-based health centers, teacher and staff training, and various other school-based interventions and services.
Recent reports have focused on mental health challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic; however, mental health disorders have been increasing among Michigan’s youth for more than a decade. The suicide rate for youths and young adults has also increased in recent decades, making suicide the second leading cause of death among young people, surpassed only by motor vehicle fatalities.
These long-term trends illustrate the need for swift, multifaceted interventions to prevent this growing mental health epidemic from dimming the otherwise bright futures of Michigan’s children and adolescents.
There is no single cause for these trends, and thus there are no simple, grand solutions. There are, however, evidence-based strategies for both treatment and prevention. These include removing barriers to behavioral health treatment, reducing mental health stigma, and building up social supports to keep children healthy, along with providing children with skills and resources that foster resilience. Considering these factors, school-based interventions are as close to a panacea as we may come.
Michigan has long neglected school health personnel (like nurses, social workers, and psychologists). Beyond the basic need to meet recommended numbers of health personnel in schools, school-based health centers may provide another avenue to facilitate treatment for students in a familiar, convenient, and supportive setting.
Schools are also an ideal setting to deliver information about mental health and provide teaching about emotions, behavioral health, and mental health care. Because schools are also venues of socialization and psychological development, they are important settings for creating campaigns against stigmatization.
Certainly, the primary purpose of schools is to educate students, but health issues are a major barrier to academic success. Left unaddressed, behavioral health disorders often follow youth into adulthood impairing the ability of each student to succeed in their education and beyond.
“The State of Michigan’s budget surplus and COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government provides an opportunity to do what should have been done long ago,” said Eric Lupher, President of the Citizens Research Council. “Alongside the funding to address learning loss caused by the pandemic, Michigan needs to direct resources to the mental, emotional, and behavioral needs of our youth that existed well before the pandemic.”
Founded in 1916, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan works to improve government in Michigan. The organization provides factual, unbiased, independent information concerning significant issues of state and local government organization, policy, and finance. By delivery of this information to policymakers and citizens, the Research Council aims to ensure sound and rational public policy formation in Michigan. For more information, visit www.crcmich.org.