opinion | Investing in children’s mental health should be a statewide priority

Now, almost every time I’m in the clinic, I see pediatric patients who are so depressed and/or anxious that they are unable to find happiness in the things that used to bring them happiness. Just last week, I saw a teenage patient who was so anxious that she had not been able to attend school with any consistency since returning to in-person learning, despite her strong desire to return to the classroom.

Gretchen Whitmer’s latest government budget proposal for the upcoming school year includes a strong investment in mental health services at the school that would help fund teacher training, mental health screenings and more on-campus mental health professionals. By taking this critical and long overdue step in prioritizing our children’s mental health, and by meeting them where they are – at school – we hope to meet some of their needs, and help them succeed in the classroom, in the field, and at home.

Here are some ways to do that.

First, based on last year’s budget that resulted in more mental health professionals being hired in schools, this budget includes more resources to help districts recruit hundreds of nurses, psychologists, and social workers on campus, and provides each school with free access to quality mental health . Health screening devices so that management, staff, and teachers have an accurate understanding of the mental health situation on campus to better coordinate efforts and resources.

Second, the plan proposes the needed expansion of school health centers for children and adolescents. These are health clinics located in school buildings staffed by doctors in communities where families lack access to medical services. Today there are more than 100 locations across Michigan, serving 200,000 students annually. This budget will allow for an additional 40 locations that will go to chronically underserved or understaffed areas of our state with limited access to care. The impact of affordable, high-quality mental and physical health care for our children who need it most is clear – helping them stay safe and engaged in class so they can thrive outside of it.

Third, the budget proposes a partnership with tracks, an organization that provides teacher training to supplement school mental health programs. While half of the young Michigan population is affected by a mental illness, only 1 in 5 receives treatment. TRAILS uses a three-tiered approach to holistic awareness, early intervention and suicide risk management to ensure that every teacher has the tools and knowledge needed to address immediate concerns or help their students find the professional help they need.

Today, one in every six children and adolescents in the United States is diagnosed with a mental health condition annually, and suicide is currently the second leading cause of death for young adults aged 10-18 in the United States. October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics joins the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association to declare a national emergency in the field of child and adolescent mental health.

Despite these shocking statistics, I often hear from parents of my patients that they find no mental health support and have been sitting on waiting lists for treatment for months, with no end in sight. These interactions constantly remind me that acknowledging the crisis is not enough – we need to act.

Raising a child takes a village, and that includes parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and our elected leaders. The Whitmer government’s budget proposal would be a step in the right direction to combat the mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. I urge the Michigan legislature and the governor to work hand in hand to make this happen.

For our kids, I have to believe they would.