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Study reveals opportunities to expand, increase mental health services

Nine west central Minnesota counties, including Douglas, joined forces to assess their mental health services. 

Approximately 400 consumers and providers participated in the Region 4 Mental Health Needs Assessment, providing feedback through interviews, focus groups and surveys.

The goal of the study is to develop methods to best serve people with mental health needs. Following is a look at the findings:


Participants said stability and reduction of symptoms were their most desired outcomes after receiving mental health services. The strengths identified in Region 4 were: mental health case management, psychological services and psychiatric services.


Access to services when they’re needed, especially during crisis, is a challenge in the region.

Consumers said they are occasionally hospitalized as an alternative option for prompt care during a crisis. It’s most common for young children, due to a lack of resources to provide high-level services or to intervene in crisis situations.

It was noted that young consumers at times enter juvenile detention because of limited resources to treat youth with difficult or aggressive behaviors.

Services reported as least available to consumers include adult day treatment, transportation, outpatient psychiatric, respite, inpatient hospitalization, crisis beds, etc.


Fear of being labeled is the biggest barrier to receiving mental and behavioral service, according to the survey. Other barriers include lack of transportation and eligibility assistance as well as cost of services.


A mental health consumer’s care team – primary care provider, case manager, psychiatric provider, etc. – provides support to the consumer and communication across the team.

Mental health providers ranked the level of communication and integration within care teams as very well informed among the following: psychiatrist/psychologist, 76 percent; other providers, 61 percent; primary health care provider, 50 percent; other county staff, 39 percent; schools, 35 percent; and family/friends, 33 percent.

The study also noted:

● Jails are not closely integrated with mental health services, making the transition back to the community difficult.

● There are limited housing resources for those transitioning from jail.

● There are few resources for children and families transitioning from a restrictive setting back home.


Service providers projected an increase in demand for mental health services in the future, including for the elderly, comorbidity (mental illness and chemical dependency), transition-aged, specific cultural groups, veterans and incarcerated consumers.

One emerging trend noted in the survey is limited access to specialty services for the oldest and youngest consumers, including psychiatry and community housing for older adults with mental health needs, school systems with the capacity to support children’s mental health needs and children’s psychiatry and psychology.


Based on study results, following are five recommendations for Region 4 mental health service providers:

● Work on strategies to address unmet needs for psychiatry services for adults and children. Consider pairing telemedicine with medical models.

● Provide additional supports to adults, children and families in their homes. Consider training peer support specialists to support consumers.

● Provide education and guidance to providers about urgent and emerging needs. Consider targeted recruitment (providers that represent emerging needs populations).

● Build a better system of collaboration with schools to improve outcomes for children while at school and during transition to adulthood.

● Identify priority populations that require additional focus and build off success of existing programs to reach them.

The Region 4 Mental Health Needs Assessment study was funded by Lakeland Mental Health Center, West Central Initiative and PrimeWest Health.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

(320) 763-3133