3 efforts to improve mental health access for young people

Recent data shows that one in three teens and one in five young adults in Ottawa County struggle with mental health, and many are unable to access treatment because of a lack of resources. 

In response, the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area has awarded a total of $130,000 to three nonprofit partners that provide mental health services, especially for those who face the greatest barriers to accessing care. 

“Our proactive grants prioritize investments into areas of greatest need,” says Yadah V. Ramirez, CFHZ director of community impact. “With so many of our neighbors experiencing mental health concerns, we are grateful for the opportunity to support the local organizations that are increasing access to and availability of mental health care, especially for vulnerable individuals, individuals with limited financial resources, and youth.” 

The funding comes as recent data from the Ottawa County Community Health Needs Assessment shows that one in five adults in the county have mild to severe psychological distress. 

The research shows adult depression is most common in younger adults (18-24) and those with the lowest incomes, less than $20,000. Many who suffer from mental illness are not undergoing treatment.

Similarly, the most recent Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey reports that nearly one in three teens have struggled with their mental health in the past year, and one in five have seriously thought  about suicide.  

At the same time, mental health service providers are experiencing challenges as clients have more severe mental health needs that require long-term care. A shortage of behavioral health providers has resulted in long waitlists and made it difficult for individuals, especially those experiencing poverty, to access the help they need in a timely manner.

The foundation is providing grants to the following organizations:

Mosaic Counseling: Increasing capacity of Mosaic’s school outreach program in southwest Ottawa County 
Amount awarded: $60,000 over two years. 
Purpose: To increase Mosaic’s capacity to implement its School Outreach Program by helping to fund the school outreach coordinator position and increasing the hours of its six therapists in partner schools that have a waitlist for students to be seen. It will also support the  Question, Persuade, Refer suicide prevention program. Mosaic’s School Outreach Program serves 26 schools, including schools in the districts of West Ottawa, Holland, and Zeeland. 

In the program, therapists meet with students to identify and track symptoms related to depression, anxiety, hopelessness, irritability, interest in activities and peers, and absenteeism. It also includes mental health access for parents. Spanish-speaking therapists are able to communicate with Spanish-speaking parents about Mosaic and how to access affordable mental health services for them or other family members.  

“Mosaic’s School Outreach Program helps students to improve self-confidence, overall mood, and self-esteem,” says Sarah Lewakowski, executive director of Mosaic Counseling. She notes that one student told their Mosaic therapist that they never imagined that they would be able to talk with a therapist. “This student is one of hundreds that will have financial and transportation barriers removed as the grant from CFHZ allows us to increase our impact,” she says. 

Corewell Health: School telemedicine program 
Amount awarded: $46,900 over two years.  
Purpose: To connect Zeeland East and Zeeland West High School students with mental health services within the school setting. Virtual mental health services are offered by appointment five  days a week throughout the school year. Referrals will be made by parents/guardians, students, and school mental health staff.  

Telehealth services will be provided by licensed master social workers who specialize in  adolescent mental health needs such as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and personality disorders. A network of interpreters will be capable of translating 200 languages and provide interpretation support for deaf/hard of hearing. This program has the potential to increase access to mental health services among Zeeland high school students regardless of family income, language, or transportation barriers.  

“Behavioral health issues among adolescents are at an all-time high,” says Katie Thorsen, manager of the Telehealth Program at Corewell Health. “Our program allows adolescents to  receive services by removing barriers to access care in their own communities. We are extremely grateful for our partnership with Zeeland Public schools, as well as to CFHZ for their ongoing support. These grant dollars are making a difference in the community every day,”  

Treetops Collective: Circles of Support and facilitation training and coaching 
Amount awarded: $23,100 
Purpose: Help identify and train local facilitators for the expansion of the Circles of Support program to Ottawa County. Treetops works with individuals who have been through immigration processes, and the Circles program is a peer support group model that addresses gaps in local mental health resources in culturally appropriate ways. This curriculum was co-created by a consultant with expertise  in trauma healing, the Treetops program operations director, and six immigrant and refugee leaders. Treetops will partner with nonprofits in the Holland/Zeeland area, and tap into their established relationships. 

“Our Circles of Support curriculum has  been a source of healing and empowerment for families throughout Kent County,” says Abigail Punt, development director at Treetops Collective, “and we are delighted to see this same impact along the Lakeshore under the guidance of trusted community-based organizations Movement West Michigan, Latin Americans United for Progress, and Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates.” 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.