Michigan has a number of underserved urban and rural communities with limited access to quality mental health services for children, yet most children in these communities have access to primary care.
Lisa Barry talks with Eastern Michigan University assistant professor Alexandros Maragakis about the grant he recently received to expand behavioral health services to underserved populations.
Lisa Barry: Most everyone knows that being a professor involves teaching college students, but they may not realize it also means writing published papers and doing research and seeking funding for that work. This is Lisa Barry, and an Eastern Michigan University professor recently got a nearly two million dollar grant. He hopes to put to good use making a difference, improving behavioral health services in Michigan and helping underserved populations. And he's joining us now to share those plans. Welcome, EMU assistant professor of psychology Alex Maragakis. Congratulations, first of all. I guess it's a one point eight six million dollar grant.
Alexandros Maragakis: That's correct. Thank you so much for having me today.
Lisa Barry: So, tell us about your project. What do you plan to do with this funding?
Alexandros Maragakis: Yeah. So, you know, the project is really focused on creating training opportunities for behavioral health providers. So, that includes psychology students, social work students here at Eastern, and really creating and developing new and developing new training opportunities for them in various hospital settings in Michigan. And there's a particular emphasis on creating telehealth opportunities, so that our students will be able to reach populations in settings that typically and historically have had very little access to behavioral health providers.
Lisa Barry: And what do you mean by behavioral health? What kind of help will you be providing?
Alexandros Maragakis: So, it encompasses all sorts of things, so, you know, it's, you know, the kind of mental health disorders that you typically think of when you think of mental health issues, like depression and anxiety. But behavioral health really encompasses more than just those typical diagnoses, right? So, if this particular grant is focused on helping children, so children who might be experiencing difficulties at school, you know, they could be due to those typical diagnoses that we think of. But they could be for other various reasons, right? It's also really focused on helping people develop better habits, right? So if they have particular issues, let's say medication compliance or trying to create a new diet to help, you know, with weight loss, for example, these are all things that encompass behavioral health issues. And because we see that there are so many behavioral health issues in primary care settings, which this grant is focused on, providing services in, this integration between these behavioral health providers and primary care providers, it's very important.
Lisa Barry: Will this money be used to actually help the children in the underserved areas, or is it more for teaching people who are learning to help the children in these areas?
Alexandros Maragakis: I would say it's a little bit of both, because we are creating new services or augmenting current services in rural populations or underserved populations to directly help individuals that live in those areas.
Lisa Barry: And I understand this is going to be spread out over four years?
Alexandros Maragakis: Right. So, the majority of the grant directly goes to funding students over the four years, so that they're funded while they get to learn these evidence-based techniques to help individuals who live in these underserved areas.
Lisa Barry: And I understand you, Dr. Maragakis, are a founding member of Eastern's Center for the Advancement of Neurobehavioral Health. And I'm wondering. Are you seeing new issues evolving now due to the pandemic along those lines?
Alexandros Maragakis: You know, that's a really great question, and I think there's still a lot left to be answered in regards to that question. You know, I think the whole, you know, having particularly young children learning at a distance has raised various issues. You know, it's some data that we've looked at. You know, there are higher rates of depression over the last year in comparison to years before when we were looking at samples across various clinics at Michigan Medicine. And, you know, while children might be reporting different rates of like they might be feeling less tired, they find it more difficult to focus on things. So, you know, we are seeing that there are some different rates of some common behavioral health issues, even here in Michigan. But I still think there's it's a very large unknown, and I think we're going to figure those things out over the course of time.
Lisa Barry: Well, congratulations, Dr. Maragakis, on the grant, and thank you for helping make a difference in our community.
Alexandros Maragakis: Thank you for having me. And I really hope this really does make a difference because our community deserves it.
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