American youth are facing a mental health crisis of unprecedented proportions. Even before the pandemic, nearly 50 percent of adolescents in the United States experienced symptoms of a mental illness. Of that number, a mere 20 percent received treatment.
Today, as COVID-19 continues to exacerbate deep-seated inequities, the need for youth mental health services is growing, alongside a parallel increase in barriers to care. According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of young adults considered suicide in June 2020, while rates of mental health-related pediatric emergency room visits increased by 25 percent. In the state of Michigan, where our foundations—the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation and the Michigan Health Endowment Fund—operate, public health experts anticipate that COVID-19-related increases in poverty, family stress, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse will have catastrophic consequences, with children and teens of color at exceptional risk.
As funders, we recognize that expansive challenges often require expansive solutions—and that building sustainable mental health support requires broad community buy-in. Our work with the University of Michigan organization TRAILS (Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students) exemplifies this effort: by embedding mental health services directly into schools, TRAILS works to ensure that all students have access to the care they need. Over the past four years, TRAILS has trained nearly 10,000 educators and school support staff, such as school counselors and social workers, to provide evidence-based mental health programming to an estimated 90,000 students.
Now, thanks to the combination of an estimated $22 million in public-private funding from a historic state education bill and collaborative philanthropy support, TRAILS has begun to expand its programming statewide.
Throughout the model’s rapid expansion, its impact has been unmistakable. In evaluations, students have shown clear improvements in adaptive coping skills and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. School staff are demonstrating increased knowledge and utilization of CBT and mindfulness. Many report that TRAILS is the most impactful school mental health program available and that its resources are unequaled.
Read the full article about partnerships to support youth mental health by Andrea Cole and Becky Cienki at Grantmakers In Health.
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