Simplified: A lack of providers, transportation challenges and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are some of the barriers people in Sioux Falls face to finding adequate mental health care, according to a study released Tuesday by the Augustana Research Institute.

Why it matters

  • The goal of the research – commissioned by a number of local nonprofits in the mental health space – was to get an understanding of the current state of mental health resources in Sioux Falls.
  • While the study notes that Sioux Falls has a large number of resources available for mental health, it also finds that the COVID-19 pandemic put a tremendous strain on those resources.
  • There's also a lack of providers in both Sioux Falls and statewide, and researcher José Cruz Medina said he and his research partner Brianna Pitz were surprised by the needs of local providers.
"Both Brianna and I came into the first few focus group sessions and interviews thinking there were only issues in the community member experience," Cruz Medina said. "To our surprise, the service providers and stakeholders themselves were suffering as well."

Who's behind the study?

Research was conducted by the Augustana Research Institute, and both Pitz and Cruz Medina were Beacom Research Fellows.

The study was commissioned by Family Service, Inc. in collaboration with a handful of other nonprofits, including:

  • Lost & Found
  • the Link Community Triage Center,
  • Avera Behavioral Health,
  • Falls Community Health,
  • And the 2-1-1 Helpline Center.

What were the big takeaways?

One of the main catalysts for the barriers people face finding mental health support today is the pandemic.

  • Because the demand increased, counselors got busier, and waitlists got longer. Mental health professionals started experiencing more burnout and higher rates of turnover.

The study also found a general lack of awareness of the various mental health resources Sioux Falls has to offer.

  • Providers interviewed for the study all mentioned the 2-1-1 Helpline as an essential resource, but none of the community members mentioned it.
"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,” Cruz Medina said.

Stigma still creates a barrier for many in receiving mental health treatment, too, the study notes.

There are also basic barriers like cost, transportation and childcare.

  • And, of course, people who aren't having their basic needs for food and shelter met aren't going to be able to focus on mental health.

Many barriers were also exacerbated for people who are low-income, people of color and people who are LGBTQ+.

Tell me more about challenges facing providers

Providers are largely burnt out.

  • There's more demand for services than they're able to provide. They're largely underpaid, and the organizations they work for are seeing high turnover.

Getting a counseling license in South Dakota is also a "long and arduous" process, the study notes.

  • One provider interviewed in the research said it was easier for them to become an attorney than it was for them to become a counselor.
  • The study also notes a trend of people getting a job at an organization who will pay for their licensure, staying long enough to get licensed and then leaving to make more money in private practice.
“We make a lot of jokes once people get their licenses about if they’re turning in their two weeks notice along with a copy of their license," reads one quote shared in the study. "That’s how that goes.”

What happens next?

The study recommends a number of possible solutions, such as:

  • increasing the diversity of mental health professionals,
  • making sure transportation is accessible,
  • educating the community about available resources,
  • and increasing support for mental health professionals.
"[This research] 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 Gesine Ziebarth, research and evaluation manager for Lost&Found.