In October, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, citing soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness and suicidality “that will have lasting impacts.” In March, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed suit, with results of a national survey that showed more than one-third of high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic and nearly half felt persistently sad or hopeless—even more so for those who had previously experienced greater inequities.
At NMU, a Healthy Minds survey conducted in 2016-17 and again in April 2021 showed a 14% decline in reported positive mental health; 24% more students said that mental health impaired their academic performance over six or more days within a month; and 81% said they currently needed mental health services.
Experts look much further back, before the pandemic, and see a drastic decline in youth mental health since 2009. The contributing factors are not always clear. But the urgency to address them is.
Northern Michigan University has started a comprehensive review of its mental health services. Former NMU Trustee Jim Haveman is leading the effort. He previously served as director of the Michigan Department of Community Health and executive director of the Department of Mental Health, the Kent County Community Mental Health Program, and Project Rehab, a substance abuse program that was located in Grand Rapids.
“Not only does Jim have deep and comprehensive experience in health and wellness, he has worked extensively with universities,” stated NMU President Kerri Schuiling. “In short, he understands the culture and needs of higher education.”
If you look at the statistics, the number of young people showing evidence of issues—whether mental health or substance abuse or drug use—has increased,” Haveman said.
Haveman said that “universities have to create a path to healthiness that makes students feel welcome and helps them graduate. I'm a real believer that a campus like NMU should be academically focused on excellence and be vibrant, fun, inclusive, diverse and accessible, and that it should also have a zero-suicide commitment through improved suicide care.
“There's no need to reinvent anything; there are successful programs out there that could be tailored to NMU. I'm eager to hear what students think of the existing options—many of which are good—and what could be done better or differently. Depending on what we find from their input and our overall assessments, some realignment and enhancements of our prevention and behavioral health services may be needed.
“Mental illness is a chronic disease, much like diabetes. It needs to be brought into the mainstream so that people can talk about it openly and aren't ashamed to seek professional help when necessary,” Haveman said.
NMU's on-campus Counseling and Consultation Services, staffed by professional psychologists and counselors, is available free to students to help them participate more successfully in the living and learning community. The university is building a new comprehensive health care facility that will merge mind and body by housing both Counseling and Consultation Services and the NMU Health Center.
Other positive strides at NMU include a partnership with Health Advocate to offer students free online counseling services outside of traditional business hours; Therapy Assistance Online (TAO); Dial HELP live counselors available to talk or text at any time of day; and student-driven behavioral and mental health awareness campaigns.
Haveman plans to provide impressions and recommendations prior to the start of the fall semester.
U.S. College Students in Crisis
*All statistics are from Active Minds, a national organization supporting mental health awareness and education that has a presence on more than 600 campuses, including NMU’s.