Advocates push for mental health care to combat gun violence in Michigan

Advocates push for mental health care to combat gun violence in Michigan
Advocates push for mental health care to combat gun violence in Michigan

EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) – Mental health advocates are calling attention to the need to improve the availability of mental health treatment under newly signed gun legislation. One of their main concerns was the availability of mental health treatment.

related: Michiganders respond to signing gun reform bill

Michigan has a shortage of mental health care workers and only 33 percent of Michiganders have their mental health needs being met, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy research group. This shortfall will require 226 additional mental health care workers to address the shortfall.

While gun reform is welcome, supporters say it doesn’t address the root causes of the problem.

Elder Leslie Matthews, Director of Justice for Change at Michigan United, is committed to addressing the root causes of crime through advocacy and support. She emphasized that mental illness is a universal problem.

“Let’s start talking about this like the common cold, because mental illness is as common as the common cold,” Matthews said. “We found that most people with mental illness end up in prison or die. Or at home, traumatizing their communities or families by not getting the help they need.”

She referred to the Michigan State shooting in February and said that even though he had been determined to be in a mental health crisis before the shooting, there was nothing that could be done to help him.

“There’s nowhere to send him,” Matthews said. “Is this how we treat mental illness? We just let it run wild across the state until it becomes violent?”

To address these concerns, the Michigan State University Department of Psychiatry is conducting a first-of-its-kind project to identify at-risk youth and prevent them from committing violent acts before it’s too late.

“The thing that I think is challenging is that as more and more people find out about this work, unfortunately the phone is almost non-stop ringing,” said Dr. Frank Straub, co-director of the new Youth Sexual Violence Prevention Project.

Funded through a $15 million grant, MSU’s Targeted Prevention Initiative is a five-year project spanning Michigan. They are working to develop five centers spread across the state, with the “hub” at Michigan State University.

It’s in a very early stage, but they hope it can address violence in Michigan and around the country. The project is a collaboration between the Michigan State University Department of Psychiatry and the Safe and Sound Schools organization.

They specifically target at-risk youth in middle and high school, trying to provide long-term comprehensive care. They describe at-risk youth as those who lack a sense of community connection or companionship. Each child identified for the program will receive a “multidisciplinary” assessment and individualized care plan. Because the issues are multifaceted, each program covers a wide range of areas and topics.

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