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Gundersen Lutheran opens Inpatient Behavioral Health facility

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for youth in Wisconsin, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Now an expansion at Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse is aimed at helping adolescents struggling with mental health issues.

While there are resources for adults battling mental health in La Crosse, sometimes families with kids or teens have to travel 75 to 100 miles before they find the help they need.

The hope behind Gundersen Lutheran's new Inpatient Behavioral Health Facility is to shine a light for those who are experiencing some of the darkest times of their lives.

The new facility has been a labor a love for Dr. Todd Mahr and his wife, Deb.

"You look at it and you can say it's beautiful, it's wonderful, but it was so badly needed," the Mahrs said.

The spacious new building provides dozens of individual private rooms and the care and attention needed to help treat young adolescent patients battling behavioral health issues.

It's a fight the Mahrs can personally relate to. Their daughter Kaitlin struggled with depression.


"It made us aware that adolescents in this area, specifically, had no services or pretty poor services that they offered," the Marhs said.

Their daughter had to receive treatment hundreds of miles away from home in Appleton and Green Bay, Wis.

She lost her battle to depression in 2007 after an accidental drug overdose.

"It was shock and grief for many months," said Todd. "We didn't let it stop us for too long though," said Deb.

Keeping their daughter's memory alive and helping others struggling like her was one of the driving forces behind this facility's creation.

"Usually it's (during) the blackest, darkest time that they have, and you need to surround them with that hope that's there, and it's not IV poles that's dripping into them," said Todd. "It's really their interactions with other people, and you need a very healing environment and this is going to be that."

The facility will be a resource Judy Schoults of Onalaska said will greatly benefit people living with mental illness like her.

"It will show people with a mental illness a place for them to go that's safe, secure, that's new and fresh and that they're worthy of that," said Schoults.

Schoults was diagnosed with depression 13 years ago.

She hopes her story and the new facility will give others hope that living with mental illness is possible with treatment and support.

"I just refuse to be ashamed about it and I'm so glad I never was," said Schoults. "Everybody rallied around me and supported me and loved me and accepted me and I probably wouldn't be here without that today."

While the new facility mainly caters to adolescents, it will also provide care for adults.

The facility will house its first patients Feb. 5.

The Inpatient Behavioral Health building will have an open house Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Gundersen Lutheran's La Crosse campus.

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