State health officials take next steps for student mental health

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SAGINAW, Mich. (WLUC) — Michigan health and education officials met Wednesday to focus on next steps to improve student mental health.

Discussions about the importance of student mental health were front and center Wednesday morning at the Saginaw Middle School District. The Department of Health and Human Services invited students and families to a panel discussion about their experiences. Department director Elizabeth Hertel said access to mental health services is a top priority.

“I believe that everyone should have access to behavioral health services, including mental health care, where and when they need it. This is especially true for our children,” Hertel said.

At a press conference, students and their family members explained why the focus on mental health is so important. Luke Premo, a senior at Hemlock High School, mentioned just one way the state can help students.

“To tackle the mental health crisis, our team has developed a proposal, we want to increase funding so that schools have the resources they need to proactively manage mental health issues,” Premo said. “Introduce mental health first aid and other essential training so that school staff are better placed to handle unexpected events.”

Premo said much more needs to be done, but he says funding is one of the most effective ways to get more programs off the ground. Despite calls for more spending, state superintendent Dr. Michael Rice said Michigan has come a long way in a short time.

“We have gone from having no funding in the Children’s Mental Health School Support Act four summers ago to funding a number of initiatives for school services in additional mental health supports “, Rice said.

Rice said the money has helped hire 600 social workers, psychological counselors and more positions over the past year. Rice said funding started at $30 million in 2018 and has grown 12-fold over the past four years. He said the state now has better opportunities to help students in the classroom.

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