GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Schools in Grand Rapids and Wyoming are adding school-based mental health specialists to provide psychological services to students. It is something school officials say are desperately needed.
“People are talking about mental health issues. I think the more we talk about them, the less stigma there is around disclosing ‘I’m suffering from depression, I’m suffering from anxiety,'” said Kim Baron, director of health services for Grand Rapids Public Schools.
In Kent County, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 24. According to the Kent County Health Department, one in five middle schoolers report having considered attempting suicide at some point in their lives, and 16% of high schoolers reported that they considered attempting suicide within the past year. Across the nation, suicide rates are rising, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Last year, the state Legislature approved a $5 million expenditure through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to provide 60 schools statewide with $100,000 per year to staff and equip a mental health specialist.
“They’re hearing people ask for help,” Baron said.
Grand Rapids schools getting the state funding include Alger and Riverside middle schools and City High Middle School. Wyoming Junior High is also included in the program.
“(They) will be year-round, full-time and they are going to be in place to meet the mental health needs of the students,” Baron said.
GRPS already has social workers, but only a few for the entire district and they are primarily focused on special needs children.
The new specialists “will specifically deal with issues around depression, anxiety, if (students are) struggling with issues at home,” Baron said.
They will have an office in each building. Teachers and other staff can fill out a referral form if they believe a student is struggling, at which point the therapist and school counselor will determine if the problem is academic, psychological or some combination. Parents and students can make appointments or walk in if there is a crisis.
There are not enough teen mental health specialists in the Grand Rapids and Kent County, which means that students in crisis can miss school while waiting a week or more to get an appointment.
“I wish we could put someone in every school because we could use more than three,” Baron said.
Officials hope to have the program in place well before school begins in the fall.
For people in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can always be reached at 1.800.273.8255 or online.