Depression, anxiety on the rise for youth: Local approaches aim to address their mental health needs

This article is part of A Way Through: Strategies for Youth Mental Health, a solutions-focused reporting series of Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative. The collaborative, a group of 12 regional organizations dedicated to strengthening local journalism and reporting on successful responses to social problems, launched its Mental Wellness Project in 2022 to cover mental health issues in southwest Michigan. Para leer este articulo en español dale click aqui.

James Henry, right, discusses children's cases with CTAC staff members. Photo courtesy of Western Michigan University.Mental health issues among American youths are a growing concern — for parents, educators, health officials, and the children themselves.

New data from the federal Centers of Disease Control indicates that 37% of U.S. high school students experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% of students report feeling persistently sad or hopeless sometime during the previous year.

Three Rivers middle schoolers participate in a TRAILS session during their sixth-grade team leadership class.Local trending mirrors what’s happening nationally. 

“Over the past several years, all the school districts in the county (Kalamazoo) have seen an increase in anxiety and depression for students. When we look at students who were functioning well in the past, those are students who are now needing extra support,” says Marianne Joynt, Portage Public Schools mental health initiatives coordinator. 

It's unclear how much of the surge in reported mental health problems is a result of stresses related to the pandemic and how much is from decreasing stigma, which makes youths more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.

Whatever the reason, youth mental health has become a priority for policymakers, who are pushing for strategies to improve access and treatment.

Margot Weiner, 8, was a participant in a March sibshop at ASK Family Services in Kalamazoo.The Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative, through its Mental Wellness Project, is profiling six approaches that address the issue through its new solutions-focused reporting series, A Way Through: Strategies for Youth Mental Health.

Stories in the series look at what’s working for children struggling with mental health, and they cover these programs and pathways, many located right in schools:
  • Children's Trauma Assessment Center at Western Michigan University
  • The hiring of a mental health services coordinator at Portage Public Schools
  • SibShops, a program for the siblings of children with severe physical or mental health problems a photo illustration of Mia and her son James, which are not their real names. James, 16, is a Kalamazoo resident who has been shot twice in the past two years.
  • TRAILS, a program developed by University of Michigan to help school-age children manage their emotions being implemented in Three Rivers and other communities
  • Battle Creek Central High School school-based health clinic
  • A program to support young victims of gun violence 
The reporting collaborative also has assembled a downloadable resource guide, Kid Grid, to help parents of children with mental health issues. 

A receptionist at an in school clinic where students get help with physical and mental health concerns.The goal is to shine a light on one of the most critical issues of our time and for our community. 

According to CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Debra Houry in a March: "The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students' mental wellbeing. Our research shows that surrounding youth with the proper support can reverse these trends and help our youth now and in the future."

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