The Augustana Research Institute (ARI) recently released a report detailing mental health services in the Sioux Falls area. The Mental Health Needs Assessment was commissioned by a collaborative group — made up of Family Services Inc., Lost&Found, The Link Community Triage Center, Avera Behavioral Health, the Helpline Center and Falls Community Health — in an effort to better understand perceived strengths, barriers/challenges and needs in accessing mental health care.
“Lost&Found has been excited from the start to support the efforts by the Beacom Research Fellows Program to complete this needs assessment. As a data-driven, comprehensive suicide prevention organization in the Sioux Falls community, we fully understood the need for further study and insight in common mental health challenges facing Sioux Falls residents and the ecosystem that serves these residents,” said Dr. Gesine Ziebarth, research and evaluation manager for Lost&Found.
The research — performed by now Augustana alumna Brianna N. Pitz ‘22 and student José Ángel Cruz Medina ‘23 as part of the Beacom Research Fellows Program — is intended to understand the various factors that affect mental health and mental health needs. Accordingly, the fellows conducted more than a dozen focus groups and several interviews in both English and Spanish among two groups: stakeholders/providers and community members — adhering to different recruitment protocols and discussion guides. In addition, they analyzed resources from the “211 Helpline Center 2021 Mental Health Guide Sioux Falls,” including the cost of mental health resources and insurance. Findings from this analysis are incorporated within the report.
Overall, the researchers discovered that stakeholders and providers agreed that Sioux Falls has an abundance of community resources, but more collaboration is needed to reduce duplicative services. They described decreasing stigma as a strength — though some stigma remains, it has decreased significantly, evidenced by an increase in community members requesting services, as well as large, local organizations providing their employees with mental health education and training. While 211 is considered a well-connected community resource among providers, the community member research participants did not mention it as an option for mental health resources, and reported it as overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin looking for help.
"It was very surprising that community members did not mention 211. In contrast to the providers and stakeholders, who appreciate and hold 211 in high esteem, it was interesting to find out that community members could not (think of) other organizations besides the two big hospitals, no matter how much we probed in the community focus groups,” said Cruz Medina.
Included within the report are a dozen barriers and challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a surge in mental health problems and overwhelmed services, resulting in burnout among providers and long waitlists. While growing awareness of mental health resources and the decreasing stigma of mental health were noted as strengths, increased awareness and stigma are also considered challenges among stakeholders and providers, as these have caused delayed and crisis treatment rather than preventative treatment. A lack of providers and licensure difficulties were also cited in the report; the process for licensure is long and arduous with little compensation, resulting in hiring difficulties, high turnover rates and the inability to meet demands, especially when it comes to those who specialize in youth services. Another barrier noted is the fact that those needing mental health services have unmet basic needs like food, housing, transportation, child care, as well as the cost & insurance for the services. Questions about the public's trust in the field and the justice system’s involvement in cases are also mentioned as challenges in the report.
“We (Cruz Medina and I) had the opportunity to talk with community members who come from varying backgrounds and levels of familiarity with mental health, and, to our surprise, many of their barriers and needs were the same. We identified strengths and areas in need of improvement for mental health services in Sioux Falls. We hope this report serves as a stepping stone toward highlighting mental health in our community,” said Pitz.
A lot of the needs in mental health services in the report coincide with the barriers and challenges already mentioned, such as more education for the public, lack of service providers, funding and compensation for programs and providers. The report also details long-term mental health facilities as a need; many facilities in Sioux Falls are only intended for short-term inpatient stays or outpatient services. One of the most common needs mentioned by both stakeholders/providers and community members is diversity among providers, who are not representative of the Sioux Falls community.
This report is to serve as a starting point to help break down barriers and empower members of the community.
“We look forward to delving into these insights. They will help all ecosystem organizations better understand the program landscape, barriers to mental health access and where gaps exist that can be met through community investment and partnership,” said Ziebarth.
For more information on the Mental Health Needs Assessment and other ARI and Beacom Research Fellows Program findings, visit augie.edu/findings.
Note: After the completion of the report findings, the Helpline Center was part of a national launch of 988 — a new three digit code for access to mental health, substance use and suicide crisis. 988 is more than just an easy to remember number, it’s a direct connection to compassionate and professional support for anyone who might be struggling with emotional distress, experiencing suicidal thoughts or concerned about a family or friend with a mental health or substance-use issue.
As referenced in the following report, the Helpline Center continues to answer the 211 Helpline, which is focused on social services and government resources. The Helpline Center answers both 988 and 211 for South Dakota.
About the Beacom Research Fellows Program
The Beacom Research Fellows Program provides opportunities for organizations with limited resources to access research, analytics and field-specific expertise in operations and data management. Augustana students partner with area organizations to complete the collaborative research projects on their behalf — providing close consultation through the entire research process, from refining research questions to collecting and analyzing data, making informed decisions and reporting to stakeholders — at no cost to the partner organization.
Eligible organizations include government agencies, nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs that strive to improve the quality of life in Sioux Falls. Partner organizations are selected through a competitive application process based on the potential for the Beacom Research Fellows Program to contribute to the organization’s mission and the Sioux Falls community. Applications will be reviewed by ARI and Sioux Empire United Way. Applications are accepted twice a year with deadlines on Feb. 1, and Sept. 1.
For more information, visit augie.edu/BeacomFellows.