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With an increase in teens and children experiencing mental health issues in Montana, Shodair Children’s Hospital has opened an outpatient clinic in Bozeman.

The Bozeman clinic, at 1610 Ellis St., across from Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital, opened this summer.

Shodair Children’s Hospital operates a 74-bed hospital for children, teens and young adults providing acute, residential and outpatient psychiatric care in Helena.

In addition to the clinic in Bozeman, Shodair also has outpatient clinics in Missoula and Butte.

The new Bozeman clinic is meant to supplement mental health care resources in Gallatin Valley and alleviate the overwhelmed system here, said Ben Egbers, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with Shodair.

“It’s unprecedented, the level of need right now,” Egbers said “There’s been a need with inadequate resources for many, many years.”

This year, the new clinic has seen 38 patients, although some were treated by telehealth prior to the physical location opening.

Having a clinic in Gallatin County should also limit the amount of people who have to drive to Shodair’s hospital in Helena to access care, he said.

Shodair sees patients from across the state, often using virtual telehealth care. Ninety-nine percent of its patients are Montana residents, according to Alana Listoe, a spokesperson for the hospital.

Along with Egbers, the clinic is staffed with two licensed therapists. Egbers specializes in psychopharmacology — prescribing and managing psychiatric medications.

When a patient can’t be treated at the clinic, Egbers refers them to Helena or to other practices in Bozeman. When he can, he also likes to provide resources for parents who may also be struggling with mental health issues themselves.

“To a certain degree, when you’re treating a child you’re also treating the family,” he said.

With rising COVID-19 cases and the prevalence of the more contagious delta variant, the clinic has been mainly operating virtually.

In Gallatin County, a rapidly growing population and added pressure from the pandemic has stretched mental health care providers thin, Egbers said.

While the Bozeman clinic doesn’t fill any specific niche in health care for youth, Egbers said it’ll help ease the overall strain on the system.

“We’re all working together to serve the needs of the community as best we can,” Egbers said.

And nearly two years into the pandemic, it’s needed. The pandemic has worsened mental health — across all ages — in a state that already has one of the country’s highest suicide rates.

A recent survey of Montana high school students found that 41% of students self-reported having symptoms of depression over the last school year. It was the highest rate ever found in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published by the state Office of Public Instruction.

About 23% of respondents to the survey seriously considered attempting suicide.

Nationally, the CDC also found a rise in mental health crises in children. The proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 12 to 17 increased approximately 31% in October 2020, compared to 2019, according to the CDC.

The CDC also found that during February and March 2021, suicide attempts increased among teen girls by 50% and by 3.7% in teen boys over the same period in 2019.

“The pandemic has had catastrophic effects on child and adolescent mental health,” Egbers said.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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