Group Tackles Mental Health Issues at Traverse City Forum

Doctors, educators, and even a local teen want all of us to start paying attention to our kids’ mental health. They say we’ve made progress, but there’s still a long way to go. On Monday, community leaders came together to spread the word.

The Health Forum of Northern Michigan is a regular series devoted to some hot topics challenging our region. In recent years, our kids’ mental health is rising to the top.

Munson Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Nefcy told the group in attendance that “15-20% of adults and children in the United States experience mental illness. For the pediatric population that’s about 5 million children, or 1 in 7 children. In addition it’s estimated that about 70% of children who are experiencing mental illness do not get the help they need. What we do know is that pandemic has likely worsened those statistics.”

“Without question the isolation of the pandemic has exacerbated issue. We’re seeing it in our schools,” says the Superintendent of Northwest Education Services, Dr. Nick Ceglarek. “I’m fortunate to work with some outstanding educators that are very much attuned to Teen Mental Health 3developing the ‘Whole Child’. And making sure that our students first and foremost have a feeling of safety, security, and emotional well-being.”

“Without that foundation, reading, writing, arithmetic, as they call it, is really difficult to get to. It kind of is fundamental,” Ceglarek says. “If your physiological needs aren’t met, they’re not going to be ready to learn. So our job as educators is really to ensure that each child has that safety. That feels emotionally stable.”

While a panel of experts may not have immediate solutions with immediate results, they’re working hard to chip away at the problem, and break down the barriers.

“Even just talking about mental health helps. Normalizing it, as a topic of conversation. Something someone can talk about if they have a need or are suffering from a mental illness, I think that helps,” Amy Horstman with the Northwest Michigan Community Health Innovation Region, or CHIR, says.

Youth Mental Health 1dr Chris Archangeli with the Munson Psychiatry Department also sat in on the panel. He is a Board-Certified Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist. “It’s not just hospitals or medicine that makes a difference in kids’ lives. Every person in this room can hopefully play a role in at least one child’s life. Having one adult that cares about you and supports you in your life makes a big difference in protecting you from a lot of these bad outcomes when it comes to adolescent mental health,” he says.

One way to get their voices heard is with what’s called PhotoVoice. It’s a tool the Youth Advisory Council is using for storytelling, to share teen perspectives on mental health issues. In a video shared at the forum, one teens says, “Even though youth may seem okay, they’re very good at hiding what they’re truly feeling on the inside.”

Youth Advisory Council member and Ellsworth High School Junior Jurgen Griswold says, “We wanted to do this project to increase everybody’s awareness of these problems. And hopefully create conversation so people can start talking about this normally.”

And even a lone, young voice speaking to a room full of adults, is a chance to make even more progress.

“We talk about youth mental health, and as adults we’re working to address that in our professions. But I think it’s really important that we’re able to include the youth perspective,” Horstman says.

And Griswold is glad to be included.Teen Mental Health

“I think it kind of does make a difference. We’re talking to some pretty powerful people out there that are able to do something in the community. And it gives kids like me and younger youth a chance to get their voice heard,” he says.

Both Ceglarek and Archangeli agree that students can take some responsibility for their own well-being, too. Archangeli says, “It can be hard to make the choice to even get help, or say there’s a problem. That’s often where it starts, is just recognizing it and asking for help.”

Teen Mental Health 2Providing the tools to students makes it easier on teachers and parents, Ceglarek says.

“I think it makes it easier on parents if we can provide students with a skillset to cope with their emotions. I think it benefits the greater society because if we have students that we’re developing that are healthy emotionally, they’re going to be more productive students when they exit our schools and enter the workforce,” he says. “The more we can do to build up social and emotional well-being in our students, they grow up to be thriving adults that are contributors to society.”

A society where it’s okay to not be okay.

To see the youth slideshow presentation, “Through Our Eyes,” click here. Or to watch their video, click here.

If your organization is interested in hosting the “Through Our Eyes” Exhibit, please send a note to the group’s contact email address.

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