Mental Health

The South Dakota Department of Health is committed to providing mental health resources and reducing mental health inequities among youth and young adults. The resources below offer answers to why mental health is important and how to access local South Dakota resources.

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Ways to Improve Your Mental Wellbeing

Mental health is an important part of overall health and well-being. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

What Causes Mental Health Problems?

There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Barriers to Mental Health Care Can Be:

  • Cost
  • Lack of access to specialized providers
  • Lack of insurance coverage
  • Long waiting lists

Early Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems:

  • Eating too much or too little, which can develop into an eating disorder
  • Sleeping too much or too little o Having low or no energy
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Using smoking, drinking, and drugs as a coping mechanism
  • Thinking of harming yourself
  • Having mood swings
  • Feeling confused, forgetful, angry, upset, worried, or scared

Learn more about specific mental health problems.

Brain Development During Adolescence

Researchers found that a dramatic spurt of both physical and intellectual growth occurs during adolescence. As a person grows older, certain brain functions develop at different rates. While the brain reaches its full physical size around 11 to 14 years old, it doesn’t finish maturing until your mid-to-late-20s. The last region of the brain to develop is called the prefrontal cortex, or the front part of the brain. This area is responsible for decision-making, prioritizing, and controlling impulses.

These big changes in the brain result in a time that many mental disorders start to emerge, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders. Teenage brains also require more sleep than children and adults, something that can often be disturbed by substance abuse. Lack of sleep decreases one’s attention span, increases impulsivity, irritability, and depression. Teens will often turn to drugs either to experiment or cope with their problems, both of which can cause short- and long-term effects on a teen’s health.


Here are some ways to improve your mental well-being:

  • Get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night. Although sleeping for 8 to 10 hours might seem impossible due to school, use of electronic devices, and social life, getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep can protect us from sleep deprivation, depression, and anxiety. To have better sleep, create a bedtime and evening routine that requires you to turn off all your electronic devices at least half an hour before going to sleep, limit your caffeine intake after midday, and exercise during the day.
  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet. The food you eat has a strong impact on your mental and physical health. Diets that contain high sugar and fat can influence emotional and behavioral problems in young people. In addition, eating a balanced and healthy diet helps prevent anorexia, bulimia, and obesity, which can lead to poor self-esteem, depression, and other emotional issues.
  • Learn to slow down and take mental breaks. By relaxing, you can deal with stress more easily. Relaxing can be taking a warm bath, spending time outdoors, listening to music, doing yoga, deep breathing, and more.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs. Alcohol and other drugs can change your brain's chemistry. Alcohol and other drugs are unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress. By using alcohol and other drugs, your mental health can get worse. In addition, frequent use of alcohol can have a long-term effect on your memory.
  • Build healthy relationships with others. Being lonely or isolated can impact your mental and physical health. Connecting with respectful and kind individuals can improve your quality of life. Strong relationships, strong mental health.

For more information: Ten Things You Can Do for Your Mental Health (University of Michigan)

Myth: Young people and children do not experience mental illness.

Fact: According to research, more than six million young Americans suffer from mental health illness, which impacts how they function at home, in school, or in their community.

Myth: An individual with mental illness can never be normal

Fact: Individuals with mental illness can and do recover to resume normal activities.

Myth: Mentally ill people are violent.

Fact: Many people with mental illnesses are not violent.

Myth: Mental illness is a sign of weakness

Fact: Anyone can be committed to building mental strength despite their mental health illness.

Myth: You cannot prevent mental health illness

Fact: Mental health problems can be caused by biological factors (genes or brain chemistry), family history, and life experiences, such as trauma or abuse.

Myth: Mental health illness never goes away

Fact: Sadly, some mental illnesses stay with individuals throughout their life, but these illnesses can be successfully treated or mitigated.

For more information: Common Misconceptions About Mental Illness – Lakeland Mental Health (

What is Mental Health Stigma?

Stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because of a particular characteristic or attribute (such as skin color, cultural background, disability, or mental illness). When someone treats you in a negative way because of your mental illness, this is discrimination.

Stigma happens when a person defines someone by their illness rather than who they are as an individual. For example, they might be labeled 'psychotic' rather than 'a person experiencing psychosis'.

For people with mental health issues, the social stigma and discrimination they experience can make their problems worse, making it harder to recover. It may cause the person to avoid getting the help they need because of the fear of being stigmatized.

Steps to Cope with Stigma

Here are some ways you can deal with stigma:

  • Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment. Don't let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what's wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.
  • Don't let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn't just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking counseling, educating yourself about your condition, and connecting with others who have mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.
  • Don't isolate yourself. If you have a mental illness, you may be reluctant to tell anyone about it. Your family, friends, clergy, or members of your community can offer support if they know about your mental illness. Reach out to people you trust for the compassion, support, and understanding you need.
  • Don't equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying "I'm bipolar," say "I have bipolar disorder." Instead of calling yourself "a schizophrenic," say "I have schizophrenia."
  • Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), offer local programs and internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people who have mental illnesses, their families, and the general public. Some state and federal agencies and programs, such as those that focus on vocational rehabilitation and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offer support for people with mental illness.
  • Get help at school. If you or your child has a mental illness that affects learning, find out what plans and programs might help. Discrimination against students because of mental illness is against the law, and educators at primary, secondary, and college levels are required to accommodate students as best they can. Talk to teachers, professors, or administrators about the best approach and resources. If a teacher doesn't know about a student's disability, it can lead to discrimination, barriers to learning, and poor grades.
  • Speak out against stigma. Consider expressing your opinions at events, in letters to the editor, or on the Internet. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.

More information: Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness (Mayo Clinic)