Heroes for Health: Dr. Michelle Snyderman

This spotlight series is designed to profile members of the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health. Over the coming months, the series will feature individual Collaborative members, each of whom is integral to the group’s efforts to forge stronger connections and establish new approaches to strengthen the social and emotional development of our children.

This series is an opportunity to highlight and recognize the diverse individuals, services and resources available to the Racine community.


Who: Dr. Michelle Snyderman, Pediatrician at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

Website: http://www.mywheaton.org

Email: compound7@aol.com

Phone: (262) 687-8282

Twitter: @wheatonfwi

About Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare: For more than a century, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and its dedicated staff have offered the highest level of quality care to individuals and families throughout Southeast Wisconsin. They combine new technologies and innovative treatments with a compassionate, healing environment. Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare organizations provide nearly one-quarter of health care delivered in the region. It is the state’s second largest private employer with nearly 10,000 associates in Southeast Wisconsin and affiliations with more than 1,300 physicians throughout the area.

Words from Michelle, a Hero for Health

In the day-to-day work of general pediatrics, we are finding that a significant number of children suffer from mental health problems. Some of these children are frankly anxious or depressed, others angry or aggressive. Many have school absences and school failure due to chronic physical complaints, but have normal medical exams. Unidentified, subtle but significant learning disabilities often contribute to these young people's difficulties.

Improved sensitivity, accurate identification and prompt response to these conditions are vitally important to children with mental health needs and depend upon communication and collaboration between multiple providers. Waitlists tend to be quite long, despite having several agencies and individual mental health practitioners in our community who are dedicated to this work. Often this population of children and families are the most in need and suffer from generational stress that has been referred to in recent literature as "toxic stress." This generational toxic stress can alter the trajectory not only of a child's emotional well-being, but also of their intellectual development and physical health.

We have the ability to alter this trajectory by "front-loading" our efforts with early identification and comprehensive support. Models exist in other communities that include pre-natal home visitation by public health nurses and social workers who develop supportive, ongoing relationships with at-risk families. Mental health services embedded in schools have also been found to improve access while promoting collaboration among therapists, teachers and families. Early identification of language-based learning disabilities, high index of suspicion for subtle but significant ongoing deficits, and continued accommodations for these children as they enter adolescence is crucial. This proactive approach can help keep children engaged productively in school, decrease drop-out rates, and minimize disruptive behaviors that would bring them into the legal system.

I am very pleased that our community has begun this collaborative process with the explicit goal to improve our children's mental health. Representatives from diverse fields, including medical, mental health, social work, public schools, and the legal system have been meeting regularly through the initiative and leadership of The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread to address these issues. I particularly hope that this process will ignite optimism and enthusiasm so that children with mental health needs and their families find themselves no longer at the end of a long line waiting for care, but rather as sought-after clients.

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