Health officials at Avera Behavioral Health say kids battling depression is now a stark reality and one of the reasons why they're seeing more patients than initially expected.
When Avera built the facility seven years ago, officials thought they would reach 80 patients in 2025. Instead, with a growing number of younger patients, the facility has already surpassed that number on a daily basis already.
Phyllis Arends has come face to face with mental illness many times. She has several family members and friends have suffered from a mental illness, including her mom, who had a personality disorder.
"Her life could have been better if we would have been able to find better help for her," Arends said.
Arends is also the executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, in Sioux Falls, a grassroots mental health organization.
"I found out the hard way that mental illness affects all of us," Arends said.
But Arends says one of the reasons her mom didn't seek help was because of the stigma.
"They're afraid if their boss finds out, they might get fired. If their girlfriend or boyfriend finds out, they might break up. So we still have a lot of work to do to educate people that these are medical problems," Arends said.
That stigma, health officials say, is starting to change. That's one of the reasons they believe they're seeing more patients.
"People are understanding that depression is as much of a medical illness as diabetes. We often compare it to diabetes. It often is based on genetic factors, certain stressors or life events," Avera Behavioral Health Medical Director Dr. Matt Stanley said.
Avera Behavioral Health officials say another reason for the large number of patients is that they see patients from all across the region. People in Minnesota, Wyoming and Nebraska come here. But there are very few inpatient mental health resources for children in the region.
"Probably little kids is the largest growth area we've seen since we've been here," Vice President of Behavioral Health at Avera Steve Lindquist said.
Lindquist believes today's children also deal with a lot more pressures.
"Kids feel the stress that occurs within families probably more than anybody," Lindquist said.
Still some people are not getting help soon enough, and Dr. Stanley says that's often why they end up having to stay at this facility.
"The sooner you get help, typically, the easier it is to overcome the illness," Stanley said.
More than half of the patients staying at Avera Behavioral Health are dealing with severe depression. Others are battling bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or adjustment disorders.