Panelists at a discussion at Saint Leo University had some thoughts for ways to divert some offenders from the criminal justice system to mental health courts, instead.
That way they could get treatment for their issues, rather than jail or prison time.
Dr. Moneque Walker-Pickett, a panelist during an Oct. 7 session called “The Intersection of Law Enforcement and Mental Health,” advocates increased federal spending to expand available mental health treatment options.
Other panelists agreed more resources are need to provide mental health services.
Florida’s mental health spending ranks 49th of 50 states, at approximately $40 per capita annually, said Dr. Christopher Cronin, a psychology professor at Saint Leo University.
“It’s hard to get a good dinner at a restaurant for $40,” Cronin said.
“So when you vote—and you should — find out what your candidate thinks about the mental health crisis and their record on funding for mental health.”
Cronin specifically called for an expansion in crisis intervention and de-escalation training, to better prepare law enforcement agencies to tackle mental health crises.
Some of these mental health training programs are offered by behavioral health volunteers pro bono, Cronin said.
“It’s a good start, but we need more funding,” he said.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, also a panelist, expressed confidence that the county could receive more funding from an ongoing multibillion dollar civil lawsuit against five opioid manufacturers.
He suggested those dollars be used to help set up “mental health ERs,” or quasi walk-in clinics, to serve people facing a mental health crisis.
Nocco put it this way: “If you broke your arm or twisted your leg, you know where to go. If you have a mental health crisis, what do you do? You call 911, but that’s not providing help.”
The sheriff also called for increasing both awareness and resources regarding mental health issues in law enforcement circles. He thinks it should be similar to the way the military has brought about a more open dialogue regarding post-traumatic stress.
“Nobody ever talks about that in law enforcement,” Nocco said. “The law enforcement officers will not readily say, ‘Hey, I need help, I need to talk to somebody…’”
Panelist Kim Senger, a masters level social worker who’s worked as a therapist in both Canada and Florida, said law enforcement and social workers need to become more effective partners to help at-risk youth and troubled students in school systems.
He emphasized the need for more youth intervention and counseling, to deal “with issues before they get out of hand.”
“We have to look at is as a holistic approach,” he said. “If you can’t find them, if you can’t connect to them, there’s going to be trouble, they will be troubled.”
The experts also had ideas for how average people can play a role to help reduce the nation’s mental health crisis.
“You do not need to be a mental health professional to have a significant impact on someone,” Cronin said.
“Find someone who looks like they need a friend. The person having lunch alone, the classmate who never seemed to quite fit in, the colleague who doesn’t seem to blend.
“What I would tell you to do is befriend them, go out of your comfort zone, join them for lunch or ask them to join you. No one should eat alone if they don’t want to,” Cronin said.
Published October 16, 2019
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