Brittany Benjamin-Kelly and Thiab Mimuna have little faith in the system that is now in place to support the mental health of students in Michigan schools – a gap they say needs to be filled.

More therapists and psychologists are needed to address students ’mental health, they said during a panel discussion Wednesday co-hosted by Chalkbeat Detroit, Bridge Michigan and Detroit Free Press. Watch the full conversation here.

Brittin, a senior at the Casa Technical High School in Detroit, said her school, which has 2,400 students, has only a few counselors. “It’s stressful for everyone,” she said. “I feel that our school and other schools need more people for that.”

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Poor adolescent mental health is becoming an increasing problem, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one in three high school students experienced a constant sense of hopelessness in 2019, up 40 percent from 2009.

Leading pediatric associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association last year announced National Emergency for Children’s Mental Healthreferring to the continuation of the pandemic.

There are $ 6 billion in the state that can be spent on COVID assistance, which some schools use to solve problems. youth mental health crisis. This level of investment can range from hiring social workers and counselors, creating curricula focused on student well-being, and acquisition of therapeutic dogs.

Tiaba, Cousino’s junior high school in Warren, said the priorities of students ’mental health needs should be on par with the emphasis on physical health and fitness in schools.

“We already have nurses and doctors, at least in our school, to help students physically because they really attach importance to athletes. But if you attach importance to athletes and students, they should also attach importance to their mental health, ”Tiaba said.

The discussion takes place after January poll which showed that Michigan residents overwhelmingly support increased mental health resources.

The event was the first in a four-part Chalkbeat series called “COVID and Mental Health,” which aims to step up efforts to better support the health of students and school staff in this challenging year of return.

Elizabeth Koshman, executive director of the University of Michigan program designed to make mental health services accessible to students, said a decision to support students ’mental health during a pandemic may not require hiring more professionals. Instead, equipping current school staff with the necessary “tools, resources, and professional development” can help address the mental health of their students.

“We have already seen that even with incredible funding opportunities, many positions in schools remain unfilled because the positions are incredibly demanding, difficult, they often receive insufficient salaries, they are emotionally burdensome,” she said.

“We need to rethink our understanding of who these people work in our buildings, and make sure we don’t set them up for failure, burnout and exhaustion.”

Increasing student participation and feedback in school decision-making, Brittin said, should be a top priority. Usually, she added, students turn to peers for advice on how to deal with stress, or refer each other to external resources or professionals they can turn to for support.

“I feel like students and young people, they raise awareness, they try to come up with their own programs, their own resources,” Brittin said. “We work together because we feel like no one else can do something for us.”

Amanda Holliday, a father from Detroit and director of the Early Childhood Program at the Congressional Communities, suggested school districts send students home with a list of resources for mental health services available in or out of school.

The organization found in a recent survey of mostly Hispanic families in southwest Detroit that the vast majority wanted to talk about supporting the mental health of their children. The priority among parents, Holdyk said, was for schools to “meet [student] needs before they become extraordinary ”.

Tiaba said she believes that recognizing and listening to students should be the goal of school leaders when they think of how to spend their money on helping COVID.

“I don’t think expecting people in power to support us is too much, especially when it comes to mental health,” she said. “There are a lot of people struggling with mental health and I see every day in the news and on all the social networks how people are killing themselves and it hurts me a lot because I think they could be helped, but they were not. t. ”

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