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Billings behavioral health professionals anticipate help from Legislature

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Posted at 8:52 AM, Dec 08, 2023

It has been a struggle for many Montanans to get the help they need when it comes to mental health.

A legislative commission is looking at how to help, and what happens in Billings reflects what happens across the rest of the state.

"It's all across the board from depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder," said Beth Ayers, family support lead for Montana's Peer Network.

Mental health is a continuing crisis with solutions hard to find.

"These kids are having a hard time navigating their surroundings their environment. They're having a hard time controlling their reactions," Ayers said about children with behavioral and mental health issues.

Ayers is also a parent of a child who has overcome behavioral issues.

"The child's behavioral health challenges and their symptoms, a lot of times are aimed directly at us as parents," she said.

Ayers is part of a legislative subcommittee now focused on solutions.

The group aims to bring more psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health workers to rural parts of Montana, whether in person or by tele-medicine.

Another big focus is getting more professionals and building repairs at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs.

"I am personally very hopeful that it will be what we call re-accredited by the Medicaid Medicare Commission next year," said Rep. Mike Yakawich, R-Billings.

The Legislature passed House Bill 872 this past session, allocating $300 million to behavioral health.

Yakawich is a member of the committee that is working with the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services.

"It's a great honor to be appointed and working on this level," Yakawich said.

He says Billings has become a destination for what he calls bus therapy.

"Transfer calls from the surrounding smaller cities and towns, we've turned 90 away every single month," said Dr. Joshua Edwards, Billings Clinic psychiatric department chair. "Just because we don't have the bed availability for them."

Edwards says the Billings Clinic has seen a 20% increase in psychiatric patients over the last two years.

And the Yellowstone County Detention Facility is full, and, according to county commissioners, 85% of all inmates are experiencing behavioral health issues.

"I'm really hoping that the commission can come up with something that's helpful for all of our patients," said Edwards.

"I really think that it's up to every single one of us to do better for these children and for the families," Ayers said.

And Yakawich says identifying problems and looking for solutions gives him hope.

"We're wrapping our minds our hearts and our will around this to find solutions for a healthy Montana and it's not a cliche," Yakawich said. "We just need to get it right."