According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) each year 2 million jail bookings, across the country, involve a person with mental illness. These numbers represent a sad truth. Law Enforcement agencies have become the de facto first responders to assist those in a mental health crisis.
The stigma of a mental illness diagnosis often means people are hesitant to seek treatment. The limited availability of mental health care in our community makes treatment expensive and oftentimes difficult to find. I firmly believe that obtaining treatment for mental illness should be as common and easy as getting treatment for high blood pressure or diabetes.
Untreated mental illness creates a burden for patients, their families, and the criminal justice system. When a person experiences a mental health crisis, it often results in an interaction with law enforcement officers. This contact with police can result in an arrest which delays critical mental health treatment.
I was fortunate to be a part of the team with creating and developing the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Team. This specialized unit is tasked with responding to incidents in which the subject is believed to be in a mental health crisis. The goal of the CIT is to stabilize the situation and divert the subject from the criminal justice system to the appropriate MHMR out-patient or in-patient hospital treatment program. Since its inception, I have directly supervised this team of deputies who work closely with our local mental health providers to identify people at risk of crisis before an event occurs.
As a community, we must work together in de-stigmatizing mental health-related issues and actively cultivate resources to help mental health patients and their families.