There are quite a few variations of mental health issues affecting people of every age.
Some suffer mildly, others severe; patients may seek treatment, while others do not or fail to follow the advice of a physician. Dealing with mental health is tough for the patient and especially for family members.
It’s also something police officers are called on to deal with in every community. Some incidents require frequent responses, referrals to medical professionals, the involvement of other agencies, treatment programs or even court action. Mental health conditions can become volatile and very unpredictable, even when dealing with familiar people.
These cases also become difficult when trying to navigate through the health care and insurance systems; leading to depression, frustration and helplessness.
I had the opportunity the other day to speak with Sgt. Sean Leary and Detective Ray Landry about the Amesbury Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership (ASAPP), which is an outreach and referral program in partnership with The Pettingill House.
The effort began in 2017 in response to the opioid crisis, which was wreaking havoc on local communities. Although the crisis is far from over, there have been 21 overdoses and two deaths in Amesbury this year.
ASAPP offers hope for those struggling with addiction and assistance with mental health cases. The partnership provides resources, support services, helpful information and guidance for patients and family members. The service is free and confidential; Amesbury officers have already made over 40 referrals to the ASAPP program this year.
In light of the calls to reform policing, the topic of dealing with mental health issues has been mentioned quite often. Many argue police should not handle these cases, which is somewhat valid.
Unfortunately, the evolution of mental health and police interaction did not happen overnight. The drastic cuts to mental health services, along with the ineffectiveness of some programs, brought more people into the public.
In many cases, family members were unable to handle the escalating condition, medications (prescribed or unlawful) did not work and too often crimes occurred. Since most social services are not immediately available or keep a Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 schedule, police become the primary resource to use.
Too often, the officer is expected to be a psychologist or counselor, having only a minimal amount of training or experience.
Resolving the mental health crisis is not going to be a quick or easy fix, but community coalitions, such as ASAPP, can be a positive and productive start.
Communities should be expected to get involved and partnerships must be established with groups capable of handling the job; not merely a new state venture.
The agencies need to be held accountable for how resources are disseminated, as well as the effectiveness of the outreach programs, because funds are limited.
The idea of removing police from the equation totally is not realistic because the number of mental health cases will continue to escalate and the practice of calling 911 has become the norm.
For more information on ASAPP, contact either Detective Ray Landry or Officer Denis Champagne at 978-388-1217.