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Dave Olson, Published May 24 2013

Lakeland Mental Health Center has been providing care in region for more than 60 years

MOORHEAD – William Harms moved from Kansas to Moorhead in 2010, shortly after losing his wife to lung cancer.

As Harms describes it, he went “into the bottle.”

He also wrestled with anxiety and a fear of going out in public.

Someone suggested he look for help at Lakeland Mental Health Center.

And help is what he found.

“I’ve gotten a lot better,” said Harms, 54, who estimated it took several months of therapy before his anxiety eased and he found the strength to deal with his drinking.

“I just kind of realized: I’m still alive and I have to be here, I might as well try to make something out of it,” said Harms.

Lakeland has been providing that kind of help since 1949, when the nonprofit community mental health center was founded in Fergus Falls.

Lakeland now has five locations in Minnesota: Fergus Falls, Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Alexandria and Glenwood.

The Moorhead office opened in the early 1970s. It is now located at 1010 32nd Ave. S. and has a staff of 60, some of whom are based in area schools.

In addition to providing Harms with therapy, Lakeland introduced him to The Social Connextion, a mental health support group in Moorhead that Harms says helps him stay centered.

“That has really been a great help to me,” said Harms, who became a volunteer at The Social Connextion and now works there five days a week.

“I’m just loving life right now,” Harms said.

While Lakeland staff members say Harms’ experience is an example of what can be accomplished when people seek help for mental health issues, they add that a stigma continues to be a barrier for some.

“I’ve worked at Lakeland for 25 years and for that entire time we’ve heard about stigma and how that prevents people from using mental health services,” said Donna Baker, site director in Moorhead.

“You hear about folks that are more apt to go to the emergency room when they’re experiencing symptoms, because there’s less stigma attached to that than coming to a mental health center,” she said.

Brian Martin, outpatient services supervisor at Lakeland’s Moorhead site, said that fear is particularly strong among refugees and others who arrive in the United States from countries such Iraq.

“We can have a husband and wife receiving services and neither knows the other is receiving services,” Martin said.

Diverse program

Lakeland provides a long list of outpatient services ranging from therapy and psychological evaluations to medication management and adult case management.

Helping children is also a big part of what it does. The agency’s Moorhead office works with 175 kids in Moorhead and the surrounding area.

A major issue for many children is dealing with the fallout of divorce, said Jeremy Pratschner, children’s services supervisor at Lakeland’s Moorhead site.

“They really struggle when they start getting separated between mom and dad,” Pratschner said.

Martin said the Moorhead center deals with a lot of mood issues, from depression and bipolar disorders to trauma of various kinds.

He said the staff has seen an increase in the number and kinds of trauma as people relocate to Moorhead from war-ravaged countries such as Iraq.

“We’re talking about refugees, or people who have fled the various conflicts. We’re seeing quite a few of them,” Martin said.

“We also see just people having normal life events and struggling to deal with that,” he added.

Lots of company

Agency leaders feel Lakeland reaches the people it needs to, said Teresa Budke, administrative specialist in Moorhead, but she said at times it can be a challenge to meet demand for certain services.

“It’s hard for us sometimes to bring a psychiatrist in to perform those kinds of services,” Budke said.

To help fill the gap, clients at the Moorhead site may talk with a psychiatrist via interactive television. To keep the experience as close to a face-to-face visit as possible, the room is set up to resemble a doctor’s office.

By some estimates, Baker said, one in four people will someday experience a mental health problem. She said it is important for those people to know it is an illness “like anything else.”

She said people should also know they have lots of company out there.

“We have 60 employees. There are certainly some of us who have a mental health diagnosis,” Baker said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555