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Researchers: MI Communities Need More Mental Health Support

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More than 335,000 Michiganders have a serious mental illness, but researchers say there are not enough Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners or other mental-health professionals in the state.

Pockets of Michigan have limited or no access to mental health providers, and a new pilot program aims to change it.

The Wayne State University College of Nursing has received a $1.6 million grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services to educate more Mental Health and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners.

Umeika Stephens, graduate specialty coordinator for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners at Wayne State University and a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Detroit, said it is important to have providers who can assess patients' mental health needs holistically.

"Our goal is to make sure that when patients are able to come in, that they're able to see a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner," Stephens explained. "They're able to see somebody who can not only do therapy, but also prescribe medication for them if they needed it."

She added while the need existed prior to the pandemic, the last couple of years have exacerbated it, as many Michiganders experience grief from losing a loved one to COVID-19, or the related financial distress, isolation, depression or anxiety.

Surveys show nearly 40% of Michigan residents have reported anxiety or depression during the pandemic, but 27% have been unable to get counseling or therapy.

Stephens acknowledged it can be daunting for a nurse to go back to school to get the degree, but she wants prospective students to know it is worth it.

"Financing, you know, an advanced education is always very expensive," Stephens emphasized. "I think giving people an opportunity who may have not even considered it, and being able to provide some support for people to continue their education, I think is really important."

She noted many graduates will stay in Michigan and support local communities. The first cohort of students funded by the grant will start in January, and nurses who want to work in underserved communities and have a passion for mental-health support are encouraged to apply.

Originally from just outside Boston, Lily Bohlke is formerly from 2020Talks, a show tracking politics and elections, that started prior to the 2020 Iowa caucuses at KHOI in Ames. She's also a past intern for the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.
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