Essential Mental Health Care Expanded for Montana's Youth

May 7, 2021

Many people rely on Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana for essential psychiatric and behavioral health services. In a state where these services are in high demand, organizations like St. Patrick Hospital play a critical role – and highlight the need to create better access to quality mental health care.

Youth are a particularly vulnerable population with unique mental and behavioral health needs. Untreated conditions can have serious long-term effects, including impacts to physical well-being, education and social development.  

Rates of depression among young people are increasing in Montana. And with only six adolescent beds available at St. Pat’s prior to 2020, access to mental health treatment has been--and continues to be—a significant challenge in our Western Montana communities.

Seeing a need to expand psychiatric and behavioral health services to more young people in the region, the Neurobehavioral Medicine department at St. Patrick Hospital set out to remodel and grow its existing unit. Despite the challenges of 2020, the expansion, which included remodeling an entire floor, was completed on time doubled the unit's capacity, and now more adolescents have access to intensive inpatient or outpatient behavioral health services that help get them on a stable path toward recovery.

“Access to care is a barrier that historically has been a challenge for our adolescents in our community seeking mental health treatment,” explains Jeremy Williams, Director of Psychiatric Services. “By improving this access locally, we hope to reduce these barriers and support both the adolescents and their families as they navigate these challenging times.”

The new acute adolescent unit opened in fall of 2020, providing more patients, ages 12-17, an interdisciplinary team of caregivers to address the unique needs of young people and develop individualized care plans. Included in the expansion are dedicated areas for patients to socialize with peers, do physical activities, complete virtual schoolwork and check in with caregivers.  

Though this expansion had been in the works prior to the onset of the pandemic, it came at a critical time for the community. When schools transitioned online after the COVID pandemic gained traction, students experienced sudden isolation and new anxieties resulting from the fear that they may contract the virus. Appropriately, these impacts put mental health on the forefront of national discussions.  

As the stigma that surrounds mental and behavioral health erodes, and more young people seek treatment for these common issues, Providence St. Patrick Hospital will be better prepared to meet the needs of its community and provide the right care for its patients. 

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