As I have asked before, for what other chronic medical condition, normally controlled with outpatient care, is the response in the event of an acute episode to call the police? Would we rely on the police as the basic response to an epileptic seizure? Would our first impulse in the event of an diabetic reaction be to call the cops? Yet, this is precisely what happens with depressing regularity when a person with a mental illness suffers a psychiatric crisis. I am not the only one who sees the reliance on the police in the absence of more appropriate services as a problem.
While I think we can do better, I also acknowledge that the police have, as part of their fundamental purpose, a mission of protecting people, and assisting those in need. It's simply a pity that we often can do no better than summon someone with the power to use force and to arrest as the primary caregiver.
After posting the data on these incidents, however, Sgt. John Walsh caught up with me. Sgt. Walsh has taken over the role as LPD's liaison on matters involving the mental health system from Capt. Joe Wright, who recently retired to accept a position as the security director for the Lincoln Public Schools. Sgt. Walsh wanted to make sure I was familiar with the work of the Mental Health Association of Nebraska. You can read more about what the association is doing in collaboration with the police department at their website.
Here we have a non-organization, led primarily by volunteers who are themselves consumers of mental health services, reaching out to help the police, and to help other people with mental illnesses in need of some community-based services, one on one. Here is the updated data that Sgt. Walsh sent to his colleagues yesterday morning:
MHA would like to thank the over 150 officers on the department who have made over 400 referrals to their program in the last two years. They have made contact with over 50% of the people you have referred and over 80% of those folks have accepted services from them. MHA is operated on a grant from the sale of LGH W, and state funds received after the regional centers closed.
Recently MHA has sent me the names of those you have referred during April, May and June. We have looked at calls for service three months before the referral and three months after. Included in the numbers below are those who have accepted and those who have not been located or accepted help. Below are the results of those 52 referrals:
Arrest/suspect 19 14
Victim 46 26
Mental Health Inv. 75 12That is an impressive result, showing that when the MHAN is able to find and contact the referral, his or her risk of arrest or victimization drops considerably, as does the frequency of police involvement in subsequent mental health investigations. The need remains large, but the Mental Health Association of Nebraska, is doing a great job trying to do something productive, and I tip my hat to them.