TRAILS Brings Mental Health Care to Detroit Public Schools Community District Students


Bad news first. The Jason Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ending youth suicide through education and awareness, states that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youths ages 12 to 18, a stat from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Unfortunately, federal and state education funding doesn’t take into account that our schools and their employees must overcome the daily socio-emotional challenges our children face every day,” says Nikolai Vitti, superintendent for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Now for the good news. Last year, Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students, or TRAILS, extended its partnership with DPSCD. The program aims to bring effective mental health care to students with depression and anxiety throughout Michigan, the symptoms of which affect one in five kids.

“Public school is an important vehicle for improved mental health policy. In a class of 35, a significant number of kids may be struggling,” says TRAILS director Dr. Elizabeth Koschmann. Koschmann pursued a career in school psychiatry before realizing that counselors are mainly equipped to deal with academic stress instead of mental issues. In response, she founded TRAILS, incubating the program at the University of Michigan before moving it to other districts.

 “We’ve used the past year to develop a three-tiered, socio-emotional curriculum that focuses on self-awareness, managing relationships and evidence-based care. We also provide teachers with referral tools to identify risks,” she says. The TRAILS-DPSCD partnership is supported by a long list of partners. Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network provided a two-year, $2 million grant to ensure that the needs of Detroit’s youngest are met.


“This is a great opportunity to deliver mental health services in the schools. We know that more students struggle with depression and anxiety. It’s great that we’re able to offer these services in order to give students the tools they need to be successful,” says Crystal Palmer, director of Children’s Initiatives at DWIHN.

The DPSCD is 80% African American. Based on the 2017 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey black students nationally reported the highest rate of suicide attempts at 9.8%. Approximately 2.4% of all students reported making a suicide attempt that required treatment by a doctor or nurse. For those requiring treatment, rates were highest for black students at 3.4%.

“When you talk about a community impacted by systemic racism, there’s a long history of academics and service providers being abusive or dismissive of urban conditions and needs. Listening to the community, giving them the reigns is key,” Koschmann says. 

TRAILS currently operates at Cody High School, East English Village Preparatory Academy, Pershing High School, and Dixon, Mason and Ronald Brown Elementary Schools. The program plans to expand to all 110 DPSCD schools by 2023. 

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