During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health conditions including anxiety and depression have increased approximately 25% according to the World Health Organization. In rural areas, like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, mental health needs for both kids and adults are often difficult to address due to a shortage of mental health practitioners and stigma around mental illness.
To help deliver health information and resources to Upper Peninsula community members, Michigan Tech University and Northern Michigan University have partnered to offer the Upper Peninsula Community Health Town Halls Series. Organized by the Health Research Institute and Center for Rural Health, the 60-minute virtual town halls are broadcasted live on Zoom, Facebook Live, and several radio stations including 97.7 The Wolf (WOLV-FM), 98.7 Rockn’ Eagle (WGLI-FM), 105.7 Eagle Country (WCUP-FM), and Q107 (WMQT-FM). The goal of the series is to increase awareness about community and preventative health issues and how they impact individuals, families, and the Upper Peninsula Region.
For the most recent town hall, moderators Steven Elmer and Kelly Kamm from the Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Michigan Tech were joined by several community experts who discussed a range mental health and wellbeing topics and answered questions from the community.
As described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental health illness in a given year and more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. This serves as important wake-up call for the need to step up mental health services and support. Town Hall speaker Kristie Hechtman from Upper Peninsula Health Care Solutions described several collaborative programs to improve resources and access to mental health services for community members across the Upper Peninsula. Likewise, Greg Nyen, Superintendent of Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency, summarized the strategic efforts being done to integrate mental health navigation coordinators and advocates within the school systems.
Abigail Wyche, Head of the Social Work Department at Northern Michigan University, described the efforts to strengthen the mental health workforce through their recently added Master of Social Work degree program. Over the past two years, more than 40 students have graduated and many have gone on to provide therapeutic services in the Upper Peninsula. As special advisor for campus wellbeing, Wyche also discussed a campus commitment to enhancing wellbeing which is described as a holistic concept encompassing biological, psychological, social, ecological and spiritual dimensions of health. Meredith Raasio, an undergraduate student and peer health ambassador at the Michigan Tech Center for Student Mental Health and Well Being, offered suggestions for maintaining wellbeing over the holidays including engaging in physical activity, spending time outside, connecting with family and friends, taking breaks from work and schoolwork, and making time for volunteering.
Since starting the Upper Peninsula Community Health Town Hall Series in September of 2020, over 125 trusted experts across the region and state have participated in 28 Town Halls. All town halls are recorded, archived, and can be viewed on the Michigan Tech Health Research Institute website and YouTube Channel. Each town hall is also re-broadcasted the Sunday after each live broadcast on ABC 10 (WBUP) at 12pm ET.
The continuation of the Town Hall series is in response in part to the 2021 Upper Peninsula Community Health Needs Assessment Report which includes survey data from more than 3,500 Upper Peninsula residents relating to general health status, prevalence of chronic diseases, health behaviors like diet, physical activity, and alcohol, tobacco and drug use, and rates for accessing preventive care like checkups, dental visits, immunizations, and cancer screenings. This report serves as an important guide for developing strategies to address the health needs of people across the region.
The Upper Peninsula Community Health Town Hall Series has been made possible through support from several health organizations including U.P. Health System-Portage, Michigan Health Endowment Fund, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.