Panel to explore state of mental health in Michigan

Annie Giffels

As awareness of mental health issues continues to grow, Grand Rapids is keeping pace. On Friday, April 6, the Office of the Vice Provost for Health and Midwest Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research Center at Grand Valley State University will be hosting their monthly health forum for the community of Grand Rapids. This month’s topic: mental health. 

The Health Forum of West Michigan is a forum that takes place on the first Friday of each month during the school year. Every month, the forum tackles a specific topic, though some do repeat when they are especially pertinent to the Grand Rapids community. On average, four panelists are brought in to give presentations and discuss that month’s topic. 

Free and open to the public, this event will begin at 7:30 a.m. with a light breakfast. Presentations will start around 8 a.m. Held in the DeVos Center Loosemore Auditorium, the forum will begin with a brief welcome from Jean Nagelkerk, the vice provost for health at GVSU. Nagelkerk and the coordinator from the same office, Diane Dykstra, both play a large role in choosing the topic and speakers for each forum. 

“Diane and I usually get together to decide the topic and look at the different speaker options,” Nagelkerk said.

This month’s group of panelists includes three health professionals who will discuss mental health and how it relates to the Grand Rapids community. Dykstra and Nagelkerk were able to invite Mark Eastburg, the president and CEO of Pine Rest; Scott Gilman, the executive director of Network 180; and David Blair, the president of Affinia Health Network and a physician. Dykstra and Nagelkerk are confident that this group of panelists will be perfect for the forum.

“We hope that the panelists will bring different perspectives,” Dykstra said. “This month, we have a public health perspective, a private health perspective and a physician perspective.” 

After the welcome, the panelists will each give a presentation. The presentations will last about 20 minutes each and will touch on mental health and other topics that go with it. The forum, titled “The State of Mental Health,” is a way for members of the Grand Rapids community to learn more about how this topic relates to them. 

“Our panelists will speak on the different types of mental health issues that people face,” Nagelkerk said. “We also plan to speak on the resources that are available and the different treatment options.” She expects between 175 and 250 community members to attend the event. 

Among the crowd of attendees will be other health professionals, health educators, providers and even students from surrounding colleges. Given that admission for the event is free and mental health will be the focus, Nagelkerk believes students should consider attending. 

“We think it’s really important that students come, especially students in the medical field,” Nagelkerk said. “They’ll be able to learn more about mental health from experts in the community.”

After the presentations are completed, attendees will have the chance to ask panelists questions. Dykstra and Nagelkerk hope that those who attend the forum will leave with a new perspective.

“Everyone will leave with some statistics,” Nagelkerk said. “We hope they’ll understand how big the problem is and the things that we are doing as professionals to provide care to those in need.”

The forum is open to the public and free to attend. There is free parking available in the GVSU Seward Parking Ramp. For those interested in attending, registration is available online.