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Police partner with Northeastern Mental Health for mental health calls
Aberdeen American News - 3/30/2020
Mar. 30--Law enforcement officers have a few more tools at their disposal when it comes to mental health calls.
In a recent report to the Aberdeen City Council, Amy Sanderson, clinical director at Northeastern Mental Health, said a community-wide effort started about two years ago with respect to law enforcement handling mental health calls.
Police Chief Dave McNeil said ideally he wanted to create a situation where a mental health professional could respond with officers on mental health calls, but that isn't a possibility at this time.
What developed was a collaboration of resources, McNeil said. Sanderson said the goal is to give the officer ways to connect residents with a mental health professional.
The calls, she said, could be suicide threats or situations where there's a mental health concern.
"Often law enforcement doesn't have a lot of options," Sanderson said.
For example, she said, if law enforcement responds and someone doesn't meet the criteria for a mental health hold, an officer ends up leaving a questionable situation without a resolution. Sanderson said the officer could take that person into custody just in case, and the next step would be an evaluation at an emergency room. But that often leaves the person with a big medical bill.
"We started talking about an in-between option," Sanderson said.
What officials came up with was a plan that gives an officer some options in addressing concerns for a person who doesn't qualify for involuntary commitment.
Each option gives the person a chance to visit with a counselor through Northeastern Mental Health. The first step is taking to a counselor on the phone.
"We assess the situation and talk through safety," Sanderson said.
She said the officer will monitor the conversation and, at the point where they feel comfortable with leaving, they'll get the OK to do so.
Sanderson said the goal of the initial conversation is to set up continued services for that person, review a safety plan for that evening, identify family contacts and arrange follow-up care.
If the person doesn't want to talk on the phone, Sanderson said, they'll be asked about getting a call the following day and a counselor will call then.
If the person isn't open to either option, Sanderson said, they'll receive a business card, information about the 211 helpline and the Northeastern Mental Health crisis center so they can reach out the next time.
Cindy Kirschman, team leader for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Aberdeen, said she also hopes to have contact information about NAMI included on the business cards in the near future.
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