Finding help in a South Dakota mental healthcare desert

The Early evening news on KOTA Territory TV
Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 3:01 PM CST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Having access to mental health services in a rural area can be difficult. A recent study found 47% of South Dakota counties don’t have a mental health provider. In rural South Dakota, mental health care services are generally provided by a nonprofit community mental health center, such as Southern Plains Behavioral Health Services in Winner.

Lyn lives in the rural community of Winner but is originally from Phoenix, Arizona. That’s where she was diagnosed with Schizophrenia before moving to South Dakota.

She thought her only option was to drive more than an hour each way to get to her appointments. “And I was going to Chamberlain for my medication and therapy when they told me there was a place here [Winner]. Which surprised me, because it was such a small town and I couldn’t get to my appointments like I needed to in Chamberlain,” said Lyn. “Because it was so far away, and the gas money, sometimes I didn’t have it”

“So mental health access in urban areas and truly in rural areas isn’t much different. The reason is, it is in an urban setting, like New York City. For example, patients have just as much of a challenge obtaining transportation or finances to get to a provider as they do in a rural area,” explained Dione Rowe, Lyn’s doctor at Southern Plains Behavioral Health Services.

When Lyn made the switch to the behavioral health center in Winner, she was sick. “I was very suicidal. What was my purpose in life? I couldn’t quit hearing voices, I couldn’t quit hallucinating, I couldn’t get into the real world, I felt like I didn’t have a life.”

Rowe adjusted Lyn’s medications, which made a drastic difference.

“When she came to see me in January 2022, I had never seen this patient before in my life. She walked in, she said she was not experiencing any hallucinations. She applied, got a job, and started working. Her shirt was tucked in, she had lipstick on, and she was very alert,” said Rowe.

When asked if Lyn she ever planned on helping others, like at her job she said, “No I wasn’t...I couldn’t help myself”. Now, her job is something she looks forward to each week. “I get to talk to the customers, and you know it keeps me busy, it keeps me out of my mind.”

Lyn says living in a rural area is better for her mental health, so having access to care in her community gives Lyn the life she wants.