Mental health services shortage impacting Mid-Michigan families

80% of counties in the US have zero child psychologists.
There are five child psychologists for every 100,000 children in the United States.
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - “To not get the support that you need to get your child help so that they can get past their mental illness, is devastating,” said Rachel Murray when reflecting on finding her son mental health services. “It’s traumatizing in its own way”

Murray is not alone in her struggle to find care. According to research released Thursday by CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are five psychologists for every 100,000 children in the US. To make matters worse, 80% of counties in the US have zero child psychologists.

Waitlists for mental health care in Michigan can range from a few months - to a full year.

Domonika Thomas is a Mental Health Clinician, and the founder of Uplift and Inspire LLC.

“I currently have several clients on my caseload that have severe suicidal ideation, and we have not been able to find a psychiatrist for them so the alternative is seeing suicide attempts,” said Thomas.

Thomas said most psychiatrists in Michigan don’t have any availability until this spring.

“It’s been a major concern of mine, to the point that I’ve looked into several different programs, to potentially go back to school to become a psychiatrist,” she said. By doing so, Thomas would be able to fill in the gaps for her own patients.

Thomas said mental health professionals are so strained by the issue that it’s causing them to leave the field altogether. She believes burnout is very common among those providing care.

“It’s really painful for me because I know what is missing. I know my hands are tied,” said Thomas, “I can’t do medication management, I can’t provide that missing piece as bad as I want to.”

Katie Anderson is a mental health coach and provides various mental health services to Mid-Michigan. She also works to expand the current resources available. She recently joined a commission with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to help advocate for the expansion of services.

“They asked, ‘what should we focus on for the next three years in this board?’ and I said, ‘mental health,’” Anderson recalled. “I just explained as me being a mental health professional but also a single mom of four kids, I said ‘there are mental health services that are lacking everywhere.”

Anderson said the lack of available help can make those already coping with trauma feel abandoned and unheard. She said even her own daughter was receiving treatment from Community Mental Health Authority and was dropped from their care. Their lack of available appointments left her daughter without a psychiatrist for six months.

“She wasn’t getting evaluated on a regular basis like she should have during the sixth-month waiting period and that’s deadly,” Anderson said. “You know that could’ve put her in the hospital.”

Rachel Murray faced very similar challenges while trying to find mental health services for her son. Murray wanted to make a change, so she co-founded an advocacy group right out of her own home.

“Almost daily we see a post from a parent who’s like, ‘I don’t know how much longer I can hold on like my family is falling apart,” said Murray.

Her grassroots organization is made up of local parents going through similar situations. It started with a Facebook group and has expanded to have a website. Her goal is to connect families and parents while also working with government officials to make policy change.

“We’re trying to hold them accountable and let them know that we’re here and that we’re not gonna be silent,” said Murray, “we want to see changes in the system whether through legislation or policy.”

Murray urges any parents going through similar struggles to join the group for support and guidance.

“Other people are going through it and that’s the best way to get support,” said Murray.

Parents can receive mental health referrals for children at the following locations:

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