For my internship at NAMI Iowa, I’ve recently begun writing informational articles for our webpage that take a look at mental health-related news around Iowa.
My first article looked at the general need for mental health reform and contrasted Iowa’s status as No. 1 state in the country with its abysmal mental health record.
For my next article, which is still in the works, I will be talking more specifically about the vital role law enforcement officers play in responding to people experiencing a mental health crisis and connecting them to the care they need.
Because of Iowa’s chronic lack of community-based treatment options and shortage of mental health beds, officers are often forced to either arrest these individuals or else take them to local, crowded ERs, where they can face long wait times, or else drive them long distances to an actual mental health treatment center.
To research this topic further, I reached out to the police chiefs from Mason City and Dubuque, and also the Johnson County jail alternatives administrator, who provided me with information about what police departments from each of these areas are doing to better serve people in their communities experiencing a mental health crisis.
For example, in Mason City, the police have recently begun collaborating with a mental health coordinator who assists them in responding to mental health-related calls.
Meanwhile, officers in Dubuque and in Johnson County have joined a growing number of departments from around the country who have received crisis intervention training (or CIT) which makes them better-equipped to peacefully deescalate situations involving people having a behavioral or mental crisis. The training also allows officers to connect people with resources they need in order to reduce repeat calls and avoid ending up in jail.
Keep an eye out for my article, which will go into further details. Once it’s live on the NAMI Iowa page, I’ll be sure to share it on my Facebook and Twitter pages.