SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — First responders can find themselves in sticky situations when answering calls for help but when someone suffering from a mental health disorder is part of the call a new set of challenges come up.
The Springfield Police Department and Burrell Behavior Health partner together to allow people suffering from a mental illness to connect with someone to help right away. When police come across someone who may need to talk with a crisis helpline, they can use Skype to help them explain why and how they can help before taking them to one of the several resources in the city.
Mental illness has touched Stephanie Appleby’s life in many different ways.
“I have agoraphobia. I have had it for about 20 years. I was homebound for about 14 years. I have five suicides in my family.”
Appleby said seeing the discussion brought to the table is welcoming for people like her suffering day to day.
“A mental illness is just like a physical illness like diabetes, cancer. Its not something we didn’t ask for, its not a character flaw,” explained Appleby.
“Mental health is just like all other health. It needs to be treated like all other health,” explained Missouri senator Roy Blunt.
Blunt spent his holiday weekend riding along side Springfield police to learn more about how officers interact.
“This is a breakthrough program here, I think, in Springfield. Its a program I’ve been talking about around the country.”
SPD’s Crisis Intervention Team has nearly 70 police officers trained to handle calls involving a person suffering from a disorder.
“This officer is going to take it slow. He is here to get me some help and he’s not here to just take me to jail or the hospital.”
Corporal Chris Welsh said officers are able to connect people to the help they need at the touch of their finger tips.
“We just make a simple call and within minutes somebody is picking up on the line and we explain to them the situation of what is going on. We hand it over to the client, the person suffering from the crisis. They handle it just fine,” said Welsh.
Blunt hopes more department’s will look at the method Springfield and Burrell use after he introduced an expansion to the Excellence in Mental Health Act.
“Missouri has always been pretty forward leaning on mental health issues.”
Appleby believes the education can save lives.
“The more we talk about it, the more we advocate, the more we do to help each other, the more its going to help so many people.”
Blunt said, right now, eight states will pilot a government funded program to help treat mental issues like any other illness. He feels the other 16 states will join, as well, if they can meet a criteria set in place.