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Part 2 of a 5 Part Series: Mental Health and the Impact on Education and our Workforce

Depression and anxiety can be difficult to identify, and in teens and young adults it is challenging to separate some of the symptoms-- like lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and irritability-- from typical adolescent behavior. In fact, according to the 2022 State of Mental Health in America report, more than 60% of youth with mental health issues do not receive treatment, and there are disparities in mental health treatment for youth of color.

Mental Health America, ranks Michigan number 21 out of 51 states in terms of the prevalence of mental illness. In addition, Michigan ranks 27 out of 51 in terms of youth who have a prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care. There is a growing number of youth who live with major depression and over 2.5 million youth in the U.S. have severe depression.

While stress and anxiety have been on the rise among our youth, it’s clear that the pandemic has contributed to the growth of this concerning trend. Closures and disruptions in schools and child care centers upended daily routines and made an already stressful situation even worse. Parents became even more concerned about their children’s health and emotional wellbeing, and difficulties with finances and job loss led to their own struggles with the cycle of stress and mental health. Unresolved mental health issues may not only lead to higher rates of substance abuse and suicide but may also impact attendance in both education and the workplace.

Mental health issues clearly have an impact on education and employment insecurity.

As of April 2022, the Lumina Foundation and Gallup reported that one third (32%) of U.S. college students who were pursuing a bachelor’s degree were considering withdrawing from school, and multiracial students were the most likely to have considered dropping out. Emotional stress was the most common reason cited among students who were considering withdrawing. Students have been feeling more and more isolated. They are dealing with the unknown as school closures and emergency remote learning increase stress levels, in addition to the stress of coursework challenges in this type of non-traditional learning environment.

Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are also associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment. Mental health issues often affect how people think, feel and act. Lack of sleep and concentration leads to an impaired ability to complete tasks, negatively affecting job performance. Over 11 million workdays are lost due to employee stress, whether that stress is due to dealing with employee burnout, overwork, family, financial or personal issues. Aside from stress, mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and other illnesses can often lead to an employee feeling unwell enough to attend work. Mental health issues are listed as the number 3 cause of workplace absenteeism according to human resources agency, Personio.

Because of the impact of mental health on education, the workforce, and the overall well-being of all Americans, the White House made a Proclamation on National Mental Health Awareness Month, 2022. There is a national movement throughout the month of May to raise awareness about mental health, fighting the stigma, providing support, educating the public and advocating for the policies that support people with mental illness. This year’s theme for Mental Health Month is “Together for Mental Health.” We can work together to provide resources that improve the quality of care and emotional support to those who are affected by or dealing with mental health issues.

Dr. Gene R. Carter, Emeritus Executive Director, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development stresses the importance of addressing the whole child. “We seek to ultimately ensure that education no longer views or needs to view health as an extra or adjunct to education, but rather as foundational to an effective education system. Health and education are related. They are interrelated. They are symbiotic.” Doctor Carter’s insights are included in the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model, which is a collaborative approach to learning and health.

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) supports the WSCC model, and Youth Solutions supports this approach by creating opportunities for our program specialists to learn more about Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). During our annual Summer Summit event in 2021, we brought in Michael Kaechele, a teacher, author, and educational consultant who is a former Buck Institute trainer that specializes in transformative PBL (Project Based Learning) and SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) workshops. Kaechele believes that techniques like mindfulness and yoga will help students to focus and contribute to significant academic gains. SEL helps young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to develop health identities, manage emotions and achieve personal goals. A focus on SEL has also been proven to advance educational equity, which ultimately contributes to thriving workplaces and healthy communities.

At Youth Solutions, we believe that supporting our educators is one part of a larger solution. Together with the State of Michigan, we believe that the focus on the whole child - which is aimed at providing the right resources to improve student outcomes by assessing the full set of needs to thrive, including the right plans and funds to make these efforts sustainable - is an approach that has seen successful outcomes. We are doing our part to establish educational equity and learning environments that create positive relationships between students, educators, workforce partners, and communities.

When the social and emotional needs of youth are taken into consideration, the result is an increased sense of belonging, value, and safety, both physically and emotionally. We believe that this is the foundation that needs to be created in order to inspire and connect youth to a future beyond imagination.


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