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Published on September 03, 2018

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Help for Mental Illness: Program Gets People Talking Sooner

Imagine finally getting the courage to see a therapist for depression but the soonest you can get scheduled is three weeks away.

A program at Avera Outpatient Behavioral Health in Sioux Falls is working to make sure people get help when they reach out. Avera Behavioral Health Triage Service is a program for people who may not need a hospital stay for their mental health concerns, but also can’t wait days or weeks to start therapy with a licensed mental health clinician. The typical wait time can be up to two to four weeks to see a therapist.

“Often people get to the point where they feel helpless and hopeless,” said Lindsay Neth, MSW, CSW-PIP, with Triage Services. “We don’t want people to feel like suicide is the choice. We want people to realize that there are licensed therapists who can help, when the patient needs it.”

People can call the Triage Service directly at 605-322-4086, and Avera’s Triage Service will work to see the patient as soon as possible based on their initial conversation.

If the need is high, they will be scheduled within hours, but always within the next few business days.

Avera’s Triage Service goals include:

  1. Complete an evaluation of the patient’s needs.
  2. Process stressors and mental health history.
  3. Review healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
  4. Provide brief tools for patients to manage emotions healthier
  5. Create a care plan with the appropriate therapist.
  6. Set follow-up appointments as needed until ongoing therapy begins.

“We help them recognize the tools in their toolbox, realizing a need to change their coping skills a little to manage the current stressor.” Neth said. “Oftentimes people just want validation that it’s OK to feel the way they’re feeling and that what they’re going through is normal”

This program is in addition to a 24/7-assessment program for people who are having thoughts of harming themselves and need a higher level of care. However, the vast majority of people are in the middle range and may be suffering from extreme anxiety or depression. They may not meet the need of a hospitalization, but it’s vital they start therapy as soon as possible.

“There is such a stigma for mental health and it takes so much courage to ask for help,” Neth said. “If you get to the point where you ask for help and then we can’t see you for two to three weeks that’s very discouraging. The goal is to meet patients at their time of need and provide continuity of care.”

In addition to the Triage Service within the Sioux Falls and surrounding areas, recently the Triage Service was launched to nearly 20 rural communities across the Avera footprint via telemedicine. Patients in these rural communities can now directly go to their Avera clinic and have the option of being connected with a licensed mental health clinician within the same-day or following business days.

This innovative approach is helping to ensure people in rural communities, which often don’t have a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor available, have access to care for behavioral health issues, too.

In South Dakota, it’s estimated that only 12.6 percent of the need for mental health professionals is met, according to information gathered by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s the lowest in the nation and extremely low compared to other rural surrounding states: Minnesota, where 37 percent of the need is met; Iowa, 48 percent; Nebraska, 50 percent; and North Dakota, 36 percent.

“This program ensures people in both rural and urban areas who need mental health services get the help they need when they need it — without having to wait until it’s a crisis situation,” Neth said.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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