Lisa Green attended St. Clair County Community College on her path to study psychology. But getting her own mental health services weren’t easy.

PORT HURON, Mich.—Lisa Green is a model student. When she attended St. Clair County Community College (SC4), she led both the community-focused biweekly paper the Erie Square Gazette and the honor society Phi Theta Kappa. She also worked as a writing tutor at the college. 

And she did this in need of mental health services that were too often hard or impossible to obtain.

“I think getting in to see a therapist isn’t necessarily always hard, I mean, that does depend on your insurance,” she told The ‘Gander. “But I have not been able to find a psychiatrist who will actually see me because there’s a shortage or something? So many psychiatrists either don’t accept new patients or you’re not going to see them for at least six months.”

That distinction makes a huge difference to Michiganders diagnosed with a mental illness. Therapists are a remarkably beneficial resource to a community’s mental health, but are unable to provide medical treatment options like those needed to treat patients with conditions like bipolar, anxiety, or severe depression.

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And things aren’t that much better for Michiganders in crisis. When Elli Jensen was brought to the emergency room by her mother Cyndi to be held until a psychiatric bed was available to treat her, the family found out that no beds were available at Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Or anywhere else in metro Detroit. Or anywhere in Michigan. It took almost a month for a bed to open up anywhere for Elli.

The Plan that Brings Mental Health to Community Colleges

For college students, who are typically trying to succeed in class at the ages where many mental health issues become apparent, that can be an extreme challenge to reaching academic goals. 

After all, Green is hardly alone. Around 44% of college students that seek help from their college’s counseling services have a severe mental health challenge, reports the American Psychological Association. The National Alliance on Mental Illness found depression and bipolar to be the most common diagnoses. Anxiety and post-traumatic stress are also among common challenges college students face. 

Part of the American Families Plan is providing what it calls “wraparound services” to community college students. These services include things that, while they aren’t directly connected to education, provide what students at community colleges nationwide need to be successful. 

And Green knows that it improves students’ outcomes. She told the story of someone who attended SC4 and transferred to Grand Valley State University. That person praised how much better four-year universities handled student mental health. Though that’s true, Green at the time thought of it as comparing apples and oranges.

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But she also recognized the importance of addressing this particular way community colleges aren’t able to keep up, and she sees the American Families Plan aiming to do that.

“I think that would be extremely beneficial,” Green said. “Especially community college students who often don’t have those kinds of services available. And from my experience, community college students across the board—not just at SC4 but across the board—are uninformed about the services they can access, the services that are available to them completely free.”

Green stressed that if the American Families Plan passes and these services become available, community colleges will have to work to let their students know the services exist, and are there to support them, regardless of what neurodiversity and mental health situations those students might face.

“This is a broad community college issue,” Green explained. “If [the American Families Plan] is implemented the way it sounds like it would be, I think it would be very beneficial for students.”

The Big Picture: Critical Services to Student Success

Green is now studying psychology at Eastern Michigan University. She hasn’t decided if she wants to do clinical psychology, but said that being a paraprofessional providing therapy to community college students sounds like a career path she’d enjoy, and it would provide a service that would’ve helped her. 

But, Green explained, community colleges often aren’t equipped to handle these issues. While universities often have mental health services offered free to students, community colleges tend to lack those resources, she said. 

“Unfortunately, what often happens, especially in community colleges, is everything’s controlled by budget,” Green said. “At SC4, at the time when I was working there, there was one person, one, who was handling basically all conduct issues. That was not their only job. That kinda became the focus of their job, but it was not their only job. They had served as an instructor, as an academic counselor.”

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And, as the Public Policy Institute of California explains, mental health services have only become more needed by students during the pandemic. With students cut off from on-campus support and left largely in the lurch on support for student success, the situation many students found themselves in was detrimental to mental health. That only highlighted the need for more comprehensive mental health coverage at the community college level.

She hopes the American Family Plan will pave the road to that exact opportunity, not just for her desire to help as a paraprofessional, but for the students like her who need that support.