By Jessica Mathews /

Researchers say communities across Michigan need more mental health supports and a new pilot program is working to address it.

There are various pockets across Michigan with limited or no access to mental health providers. The National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI reports that more than 1.4 million adults in Michigan have a mental health condition and more than 355,000 adults have a serious mental illness.

The Wayne State University College of Nursing has since received a $1.6 (m) million grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services to educate more Mental Health and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners.

Umeika Stephens is a graduate specialty coordinator for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners at Wayne State and a psychiatric nurse practitioner. She said it’s important to have providers who can assess patients' mental health needs holistically.

Stephens says their goal is to make sure that when patients are able to come in, that they're able to see a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and are able to see somebody who can not only do therapy but also prescribe medication for them if they needed it.

Surveys show nearly 40% of Michigan residents have reported anxiety or depression during the pandemic, but 27% have been unable to get counseling or therapy.

Stephens says the need existed prior to the pandemic but the last couple of years have only exacerbated it, as many Michiganders experience grief from losing a loved one to COVID-19 or the related financial distress, isolation, depression or anxiety.

Stephens noted that financing an advanced education is always very expensive and she thinks giving people an opportunity who may have not even considered it, and being able to provide some support for people to continue their education, “is really important".

Stephens acknowledged it can be daunting for a nurse to go back to school to get the degree but assures prospective students it is worth it. The first cohort of students funded by the grant will start in January.

Public News Service contributed to this story. More information from NAMI is attached.