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Breaking the Stigma: Steps to get help for mental health

Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 11:42 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Between the Helpline Center and the South Dakota Department of Health COVID information line, there were almost 18,000 calls looking for assistance for mental health or addictions last year.

Dr. Matthew Stanley, the vice president of Avera Behavioral Health, said his center saw an increase in patients affected by the pandemic last year as well. Historically, summer can be a slower time for staff, but Dr. Stanley said that’s when they saw an increase in demand for services, mostly for adolescents.

“Normally when school is out, we see a decline in the number of adolescents that need to be hospitalized. That was not the case through the pandemic and since then, we have remained virtually at capacity every day. We’re struggling for space,” Dr. Stanley said.

Being at capacity means 122 beds plus another 32 at the Avera Addiction Care Center. The breakdown of those beds is 40 beds for kids, 68 for adults, and 14 for seniors. Some of what kids were experiencing could have been an effect of what their parents were going through.

“We know that in adults, alcohol and drug use has gone up. Depression has gone up,” he said. “Well, when you’re a child, how your parents are doing affects you remarkably and you have very little control over that.”

The Helpline Center received more than 47,000 requests for resources on housing and food last year from families across South Dakota.

“I think the more that we are able to talk about mental health challenges and educate people regarding mental illness, that it can just be a normal conversation,” Sheri Nelson said. Nelson is the suicide prevention director at the Helpline Center.

Dr. Stanley reiterates how important it is just to talk about it.

“I think if we could learn to talk about it more as an illness versus something to be ashamed of, or something you should be able to overcome yourself, we have to quit implying that there’s some form of weakness or character flaw,” Dr. Stanley said.

He said when you lose your ability to function on a daily basis, then that could be a sign to seek help. Other signs would be if you’re sleeping too much or can’t sleep or if you’ve lost your appetite or the opposite, are overeating. One place to start to get help could be your primary care physician. If that’s not a good fit, you can call Avera’s assessment line at 1-800-691-4336.

“You can talk to someone and they’ll kind of help you to determine what level of care you need,” Dr. Stanley said. “Hospitalization is always the last resort. They’re going to talk to you about things like counseling and medication and help you assess where you are.”

Dr. Stanley and so many other health experts realize the need for behavioral health services is not going to go away. Avera is already expanding the Behavioral Health Center.

Dozens of beds dedicated to mental health issues will be added, including 14 for children, four for adults, six senior beds, and eight for adolescents. An urgent psychiatric care service will also be open 24 hours when the expansion is done.

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