PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and local doctors, as well as national data, show that more children suffer from mental health issues than ever before.

UnityPoint Health offers behavioral health services in a wing of its Methodist hospital, but its capacity is full.

Mike Unes, Vice President of UnityPoint Health Central Illinois Foundation, said those services are the only of their kind in the area.

About two months ago, UnityPoint announced its purchase of the former Heddington Oaks nursing home. This campus will be turned into a children’s behavioral health facility.

This is the Young Minds Project.

Unes said he wants it to have a “less institutional feel.”

“This is so much larger than just a building,” Unes said. “It’s really a vision. A vision that has the power to really transform the way mental health services are being provided for kids in the area.”

What excited Unes the most, he said, is the “one-stop-shop” design of the new facility. After the young patient is able to go home after inpatient treatment (Unes said this is typically a 7-day stay), they will return to the same familiar facility with the same familiar faces for their outpatient therapy services.

“For them to be able to come back once their inpatient services are complete, and come back to that same familiar setting for those intensive outpatient services, just makes all the sense in the world to us. It’s something that is just so vastly needed.”

“We don’t know of another facility that does all of these things under one roof, and it’s really going to be transformational for the Peoria area,” Unes said.

Why expand now? Unes said the main issue is capacity.

“We always knew that we needed to expand those services because the capacity is not enough… we also wanted to reshape how it was done,” he said. “Being able to take it out of a hospital wing and put it on a ground floor gives us the ability to really develop this as we want. And seldom do you get that blank piece of paper.”

Why focus specifically on children? Unes said he could go on for hours about why children need better mental healthcare, but settled on this simple answer:

“It’s not easy being a kid today.”

The Young Minds Project is a roughly $25 million vision, according to Unes. He said the foundation is hoping to fundraise half of that cost, and they are halfway to reaching that goal.

Right now, every dollar donated is being matched, up to $1 million, by a “very generous family,” Unes said.

He said the community has already been so generous and supportive, but they still have a long way to go before they can accomplish a project everyone can be proud of.

To donate or learn more, visit or call the foundation at (309) 672-5741.