New behavioral health clinic opens in Whitefish


KALISPELL, Mont. - A new Community Health Needs Assessment in the Flathead shows an unmet high demand for mental health clinics, especially for children.

Flathead County is among the top counties in suicide rates in the state, and the state of Montana has the second highest suicide rate in the country.

Flathead resident Gwendolyn Fratt says, while she doesn't have kids of her own, she knows if they needed help she wouldn't know what to do.

"I would feel almost incompetent, because I wouldn't know what to do to help them," Fratt said.

That's because there was only one place for children to go to get help in Kalispell. Now, with the addition of a new Whitefish clinic, that's changed.

"Other than myself, I believe in Kalispell there may be a child psychiatrist. But, outside of that, the next closest area would be Great Falls or Missoula, and that's a really long way to have to travel to see someone," North Valley Behavioral Clinic Medical Director Dr. Douglas Muir said.

Muir was recruited by the Flathead Health Department after the Health Needs Assessment found out the demand for mental health services.

County and hospital health workers ran focus groups and surveys. They say people found a gap in health care because of few mental health services for children.

With Flathead County having twice the suicide rate of the national average, residents feel that getting people help at an early age might change that statistic.

"If you have someone at an early age to talk to, it could potentially lower suicide rates in teens and young adults," Fratt said.

The new mental health clinic also means there is even less of a chance Flathead kids will have to travel out of the county to get help.

"I'm really hopeful things will grow here and more people will seek the help that they need," Muir said.

Fratt also thinks that's the most important thing.

"I think it will be helpful to parents who especially need, who see something in their child that maybe they need help, and this way they have an option," Fratt said.

The North Valley Behavioral Clinic has been open for a little over a week now. Muir says he has seen quite a few patients already.