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Officials say police need more mental health training

Police officers are typically the first to respond to people with a mental illness.
Some health officials say officers need more mental health training to be better prepared.

Police officers are typically the first to respond to someone with a mental illness. Many health officials and organizations are working with police departments to offer help in assessing people with a mental illness via electronic devices, like iPads. Photo / Pixabay

Mustang Chief of Police Robert Grose-close is expecting his department to have another mental health training in March.
The Crisis Interven-tion Team, which is a program of the Okla-homa Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Serv-ices, offers 40-hour training over a span of five days to officers. The goal of the training is to partner officers and their community together to understand and serve people with mental illnesses, as well as their families, according to the state department’s website.
Several classes are taught throughout the program by specialists, including a psychiatrist; substance abuse specialist; social workers; police officers; and National Alliance on Mental Illness representatives. Discussions with providers from the Community Mental Health Centers also happen.
Upon completion of the training, officers are prepared to de-escalate situations involving people with a mental illness and are equipped with determining the need for emergency treatment, the website said. Since the program’s inception in 2002, more than 600 officers in Oklahoma have been trained.
Mustang Police Department officers are required by the state of Oklahoma to participate in a minimum of two hours of mental illness training per year.
“We do our best to do more,” said Groseclose. “Each officer is different.”
Julie Kieu, public relations coordinator for Red Rock Behavioral Health Services said two hours is not enough.
“Two hours of mental illness training is insufficient for the good of the police officer and for those suffering with mental health distress,” said Kieu. “For officers trying to identify the person in front of them as a threat or as someone who needs another kind of assistance, there needs to be significantly more training to better prepare the officer.”
Instead, there must be a minimum of two days of training for new officers and a one-day refresher training each year, Kieu said. With this training, officers can recognize the different types of mental illnesses, practice de-escalation interventions and offer a higher level of services to people with mental illnesses, she said.
Some trainings that Kieu said are imperative to officers include: mental health first aid, motivational interviewing, recognition of crisis behaviors and serious mental illness and education on Mental Health Law 43A, with an emphasis on emergency order of detention guidelines.
Ten Mustang officers have completed CIT so far, Groseclose said. The department has almost 30.
Mustang officers respond to three different categories under the mental health umbrella in their records: transports; suicide attempts; and emergency orders of detention, which is typically where officers take a person into custody against their will, Groseclose said.
In 2019, officers responded to 44 calls related to mental illness cases. They responded to 45 in 2020.
Groseclose said he could not tell if any of the calls were in regard to the same person.
“There potentially could be many more that are related to mental health issues that we go on calls day-to-day that don’t fit those categories,” Groseclose said.
Mental health agencies also partner with law enforcement to provide assistance in ride-alongs, as well as connecting officers with mental health professionals via iPads for cases that require assessment of people with mental health distress, Kieu said. This offers them quick assistance and connection to treatment, she said.
More than 40% of U.S. residents experienced adverse mental or behavioral health symptoms related to the pandemic from June 24-30 of 2020, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Approximately 40% of Oklahomans are experiencing anxiety and depression, and the CDC reports that Oklahoma opioid overdoses have increased by more than 50% in the last 12 months.
Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for rates of any mental illness, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services 2012 data. Regarding rates of any substance abuse disorders, the state ranks second in the U.S. at approximately 11%.
Between 700,000 and 950,000 adult Oklahomans need services, however, most are not receiving the care they need to fully recover from their illnesses, ODMHSAS said.
“We believe that with Medicaid expansion, more individuals will be able to seek and receive treatment,” Kieu said.
Approximately 192,000 Oklahomans received ODMHSAS services in fiscal year 2018.
There are more than 19,000 adults (those 18 and older), who are in need of mental health treatment in Canadian County. Of those, 1,346 have been served.
More than 17,000 adults are estimated to be left untreated in the county. Canadian County holds one of the highest gap percentages of adults left untreated throughout the state at 93%.
RRBHS has seen an increase in patients throughout the past year, Kieu said. There has been a 6% increase in patients overall, with a 386% increase in patients using teleservices.
“The increase of patients may be due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is so much more complex with the interplay of the loss of mobility to travel, the inability to see extended family for special events or holidays, the loss of one’s job or income, the stress from the political climate, the fear of the unknown and the interplay of many other contributing factors,” Kieu said. “Advances in teleservices have made mental health services available to many individuals at home in cases where they would have not been able to come into our facilities to receive the services in-person.”
Regarding data about adults with substance abuse in the county, there are 7,471 people in need of treatment, and of those, 535 have been served.
Children 0 to 17 with mental illnesses left untreated in Canadian County is lower at more than 4,000. However, there are more than 6,000 in need of treatment in the county.
There are more than 1,000 youth with substance abuse left untreated, while 1,516 are in need of treatment. Of those, 81 have been served.
“Children are suffering significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the constant changes in scheduling, loss of important activities and overall uncertainty in all areas of their life,” Kieu said.
Twenty-eight state legislators created a mental health caucus Jan. 15 to discuss ways to improve care and systems for all Oklahomans, according to an Oklahoma House of Representatives release. No Canadian County representatives or senators are founding members of the caucus.

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