Once We Know Better, We Should Do Better!

Once We Know Better, We Should Do Better!

Did you know that according to Michigan’s 2013 RAAPS data…

  •  25% of students reported feeling sad or depressed
  • 25% of students reported that they struggle with anger management issues
  • 16% of students reported being bullied or harassed in the last month
  •  13% of students reported having serious worries
  • 11% of students reported having been physically or sexually abused

The recent MDCH review of its self-reported student risk assessments reveal that thousands of Michigan students who have access to Child and Adolescent Health Centers are suffering from mental health issues. It offers important but limited insight to this unpublicized yet highly significant problem for the State.  And this is troublesome news for a number of reasons but especially its negative impact on educational readiness, safety and future quality of life here in Michigan.

A recent report by The Education Trust – Midwest confirmed what we already know: Our current efforts to improve student performance are not working. It offers recommendations for improvement but fails to recognize the most important consideration in any successful educational environment; student readiness.  And while there are many factors which impact student readiness, the most significant and overarching factor impacting student readiness failed to be mentioned and remains largely unaddressed: The underlying mental health status of our student population.

Students who suffer from unaddressed mental health problems make the learning experience more challenging for both student and teacher, and success less likely. This was an obvious oversight given the Education Trust’s recommended school-based health center funding to improve educational outcomes when they co-signed the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report For Each and Every Child. Unless the State and all of its partners in education reform are willing to openly and aggressively address this major obstacle to educational readiness, we will have wasted an extraordinary amount of time, money and resources without any realistic capacity for return on investment.

In addition to the huge obstacle mental health issues create during the learning process, they provide an even more ominous safety threat within our schools and communities. Recently, our national attention focused on the Connecticut and Pennsylvania communities devastated in the wake of student violence.  Alarmingly, the assailants involved have similar risk profiles to many students here in Michigan: they obviously had untreated mental health issues; they carried weapons into school; and one was allegedly teased or bullied. The RAAPS data reveal that at the same time so many Michigan students are facing mental health issues, they collectively reported a 30% increase in carrying weapons for protection.  This is a volatile combination making the likelihood of an event like those in Madison, Murrysville, Sandy Hook, and Columbine relatively predictable and, because of our awareness, possibly preventable. School violence related to untreated mental illness leaves in its wake post-traumatic stress experienced by students, families, staff, and communities that ultimately leads to even more mental health issues and increases the risk and societal cost exponentially. Michigan is in a unique position to use the student mental data and Child and Adolescent Health Center infrastructure to provide the necessary intervention.

Earlier this year, Michigan’s Mental Health and Wellness Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Calley, indicated in its 2013 report that expansion of mental health services within its Child and Adolescent Health Centers was necessary and appropriate.  However, financial support to expand mental health services broadly throughout Michigan’s network of centers has yet to be realized.    We know that the most cost-effective, evidenced based solution is within our control.  To enable every student the opportunity for educational and personal success, we must urge the State to move forward to provide the necessary funding to identify and treat mental health issues confronting our students. We owe it to our students and the future of Michigan to do better because we know better!

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