Mental health is an important part of overall health and wellness, and includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, perform at work or school, relate to others, and make healthy choices.

Michigan’s mental health challenges are as diverse as the people who live here, and the three URC institutions – MSU, U-M, and WSU—have research, therapies, treatments, services and resources to help provide support every step of the way. With more than 640 mental health studies and projects conducted over the past 5 years, their work is extensive, supporting every phase of life, including infant and maternal mental health, support for veterans, rural mental health care programs, mental health first aid training, art therapy, Muslim mental health, depression services, workforce support, and resources for the aging and elderly. They also collaborate on emerging issues such as opioid addiction, and provide resources to cope with new stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The role of research universities in finding therapies, treatments, providing services, and anchoring community outreach and support is more needed than ever. Even before the pandemic hit, it was widely known that many Michigan residents with a mental illness or substance-use disorder do not receive critical treatment, a crisis compounded by a lack of health professionals and treatment facilities, according to a 2019 Altarum report on mental healthcare accessibility.

URC institutions work to help bridge gaps in services through a suite of programs that include rural psychiatry and community mental health programs in medical schools, mental health interventions, and tackling racial disparities in receiving access to mental health care. A URC analysis of university awards data found that health-related research, programs and services over the past five years (2015-2019) totaled nearly $173 million. Mental health related research and services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic secured funding in 2020 as well.

They’ve built strong recommendations for ways to recruit psychologists and strengthen psychiatry residencies, to remove barriers to rural telepsychiatry and to find new ways to improve mental telehealth treatment program outcomes.

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Better Results with Telehealth

Michigan is home to the first depression research center in the nation. Established twenty years ago, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center (UMDC) is the first of its kind, devoted entirely to bringing depression into the mainstream of medical research, translational care, education, and public policy. The Center is at the forefront in changing the paradigm of how depression and bipolar illnesses are understood and treated.

Among URC institutions, more than 40 studies were launched over the past five years to better treat depression, such as predicting depression relapses, understanding depression among aging populations, and suicide prevention.

One collaborative project that yielded significant reduction of symptoms is a collaboration between MSU and U-M on telemonitoring support for depression self-management. Although depression care management improves outcomes, widespread uptake is hindered by limitations in access, cost, and time. Researchers’ practical intervention method uses simple technologies to activate patients’ existing social networks: Patients were paired with a Care Partner that supported the patient’s self-management in coordination with their clinician and any pre-existing caregivers at home.

Via weekly telemonitoring, patients provided data on mood and self-management, and receive tailored self-management advice. Corresponding advice was also provided to Care Partners to help them support the patient’s self-management efforts, and clinicians were notified of clinically urgent situations. Patients consistently engaged in telemonitoring, Care Partner and clinician reports were successfully issued, and depressive symptoms reduced significantly.


Mental Health First Aid

Since 2017, Michigan State University Extension has offered Mental Health First Aid training to both its own staff and external organizations. Working in every county in the state of Michigan, including the most rural areas that lack mental health support, Mental Health First Aid is evidence-based training that teaches participants how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis and help someone who may be experiencing one.

This program helps break down the misinformation surrounding mental health and helps trainees understand how they can play a role in the “first response” to mental health issues. Trainees are taught how to use a five-step action plan to help someone experiencing a mental health issue, and connect them to the care and resources they need to recover.

As of 2019, around 70% of MSU Extension staff and to date, more than 925 people have been trained by MSU Extension in Mental Health First Aid.

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Taking Mental Health Support to the Front Lines

Michigan’s first responders – health care and law enforcement providers — were often the first to bear the impact of COVID-19, with critical jobs reinforcing public safety that put them at risk during the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, all three URC institutions worked tirelessly to support first responders by opening special testing sites, donating and fabricating PPE, staffing hotlines, and funding childcare. They continue their efforts to better understand and mitigate the pandemic’s impact as the threat continues.

In March 2021, the Wayne State University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Sciences teamed with the State of Michigan to build and deploy their comprehensive behavioral and mental health training and support program, Frontline Strong Together, for first responders and their families. Utilizing the accessible 211 crisis and referral network, this program will help address the stress that police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, dispatchers and corrections personnel and their families face in their duties protecting Michigan residents.

Available electronically and in-person to first responders and their families in nearly all of Michigan’s 83 counties this year, the program is developed and implemented with representatives of the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Department of Corrections, paramedics and dispatchers.

To develop the program, mental health experts from Wayne State University and Wayne Health joined forces with Kenneth Wolf, Ph.D., director of the Incident Management Team, and the 211 crisis and referral network. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services provided $2 million grant to fund the development of education, training, support and behavioral health treatment services by experts.

“Frontline Strong Together distinguishes Wayne State University in that the research we do is… right in the trenches with the community, in real time, to develop evidence-based approaches to help as many people as possible,” said David Rosenberg, M.D., chair of the WSU Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences.


URC Collaboration to Strengthen Parent, Teacher and Toddler Mental Health

To foster more integrated interactions among parents, teachers and children, researchers from MSU, U-M and WSU received $2.5 million over five years in a cooperative agreement with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Researchers designed a professional development program to improve parent and teacher interactions with children by focusing on mindfulness, reflective functioning and responsiveness to children’s cues. This research helps caregivers better understand children’s attachment needs through video-based feedback and hands-on activities that reduce stress and promote sensitivity and responsiveness. In the past, parent and teacher trainings focused on information about child development and age-appropriate strategies, but did not address the changes in attitudes and skills needed to support caregiver-child interactions. Strengthening those skills supports more responsive interactions between teachers, parents and children in Early Head Start programs, and builds stronger mental health outcomes.

Learn More: URC Wins $2.5 Million to Foster a More Integrated Interaction among Parents, Teachers and Children

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University Stories 

Recent mental health programs and breakthroughs from each URC institution

Michigan State University

The University of Michigan

Wayne State University