Community mental health agencies want more options for helping Michigan's children

Parents want effective mental health interventions.

The state of Michigan offers a number of resources for its residents related to mental health awareness and care. However, in recent years the need for children’s mental health care facilities has grown while the supply has dwindled. Families across the state suffer because of this.
According to Robert Sheehan, CEO of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, the state of mental health care for children in Michigan is two-fold.
“Kids' treatment on the Medicaid side is really robust,” Sheehan says. “Commercial treatment is a bit tougher. Private insurance covers typically inpatient hospitalization or outpatient psychotherapy — talk-based therapy — but nothing else. It doesn't include any other comprehensive subscript things like home-based therapy. Medicaid does”
When children’s mental health care is presented that way, it is clear that both Medicaid and private insurance holders have a multitude of options even if they differ for each group.
However, both state and private residential mental health care for children is lacking for different reasons. Within state hospitals, only 30 psychiatric beds are dedicated to children in need of residential care. This is nowhere near enough to meet the need. Almost two million of Michigan’s ten million person population is under the age of 18. Thirty beds spread across the state cannot even begin to treat every child. 

Private health care does offer significantly more options. However, those hospitals are allowed to turn children away based on previous behavior and reputation with little incentive to create more resources for “difficult” children. With limited options, children, especially those in crisis, are left with few places to go.
“The kid either ends up going back home where the issue will likely happen again, leave the hospital and have nowhere to go, or they get arrested. None of those are good outcomes” says Sheehan.

The passing of MI SB0227 would improve mental health care for Michigan's children. 

This is an issue in every county of Michigan. Thirty beds spread across 83 counties leaves families having to make a choice between equally ineffective options every day.
“What we’re seeing is demand appropriately rising,” Sheehan says. “It doesn't mean the needs are rising, it means parents are saying, ‘I don't want my son arrested.’  Or, ‘I don’t want my child expelled.’ At the same time that demand has risen, we haven't developed ways to incentivize private hospitals to take these kinds of kids or built up state beds.”
In 2019 in the U.S, 5.8 million children were diagnosed with anxiety and 2.7 million children diagnosed with depression. The latest statistics for Michigan indicate that 13.5% of children ages 3 to 17 struggle with anxiety or depression. This rate is higher than the national average and 33 other states. These numbers have continued to increase. Increasing diagnoses and sensitivity to these diagnoses has increased the demand for adolescent mental health care. 

A lack of state-funded options and restrictions to some private options have left many children with no place to receive long-term inpatient care. With the current state of the economy in the U.S., social determinants of health exacerbate this issue for many children and spur the need for care.
“We know that poverty and health issues are related,” Sheehan says. “People forget that. But if I take away the poverty, improve housing, or improve parents’ employment status, mental health symptoms go down.” 

However, even with limited long-term residential options, Michigan residents do have options available. Medicare offers many home health services. Utilizing these services can make all of the difference in a child’s life. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Children that receive therapeutic care for their mental health needs can their reduce problems at home, in school, and in forming friendships  Sheehan believes that it is of the utmost importance that, while Michigan is experiencing this shortage of state-funded beds, families remember they do have options that do not require children to be removed from the home. Making an intervention when the problem may seem small makes all of the difference.

“A lot of parents would say it doesn't solve the problem, but I tell people it's sort of like a small house fire,” Sheehan says. “If they're not going to build the fire department for a couple years, [when you have a small house fire] you don't go to public hearings and say, ‘Hey I need it faster.’ You might want to do that, but, at the same time, it would be a good idea to fight the fire at home.”
CMHAM posts crisis and non-crisis community mental health services on its website. For additional help in crisis as well as information on mental health supports, dial 988.

Ashley King is a born-and-raised Michigander. She wants to use her writing expertise to make sure the stories of Michigan reach far and wide across the Mitten and beyond.

Robert Sheehan photo by Roxanne Frith.
Other photos

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, Center for Health and Research Transformation, Genesee Health System, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, North Country CMH, Northern Lakes CMH Authority, OnPoint, Sanilac County CMH, St. Clair County CMH, Summit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.

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