AKRON, Ohio — Mental illnesses and alcohol and drug addiction disorders are common. National stats show about one in five adults will experience the issue at some point in their lives. But the issue is—many don't end up seeking treatment because of stigma, and when they do call for help it's often at the last minute when they're in a dire situation.
Add in the pandemic, and calls for help across the country are going up.
"I think there's a lot more depression, anxiety, even the paranoia, things like that. So if you've already got any of those issues going on, it's even worse right now," said Kathy Barnhart, a licensed social worker.
Data shows about a quarter of violent law enforcement encounters involve someone with serious mental illness.
"Law enforcement is not trying to arrest people for that. They really have worked with us very collaboratively. They want to see these individuals get help," said Dr. Doug Smith, the medical director for Summit County's ADM board.
Many mental health professionals believe conflicts can be avoided if police have a crisis intervention, also known as CIT training. It includes: recognizing and identifying the signs of various mental health issues, knowing how to de-escalate a situation and learning about what local resources are available to get the person the right kind of help.
"If we know what kind of options people have, then we're better equipped to give them help and also to say, hey, it's not like you just have to go to the hospital. There's other things we can do for you," said Ralph Stover, the CIT coordinator for the Tallmadge Police Department. "And a lot of times, if that required them going to the hospital for evaluation, then we really would never see them or have any interaction with them until they're in crisis again."
Part of the crisis team includes a counselor or social worker. That person will ride with officers doing weekly case follow-ups to connect people with resources, schedule appointments or even take them to appointments.
"A lot of times people just want to be listened to and heard even if they're paranoid or depressed, and sometimes people just don't know where to get the help," said Kathy
CIT training isn't just for officers though. Those who work in hospitals, medical facilities or firefighters can also take classes.
Part of the CIT training expansion project also includes data collection, so mental health agencies can record how many cases law enforcement are responding to.
"Then resources can be allocated and funneled towards what those crises that we're seeing out there and we can hopefully better serve people in the community," said Ralph
As a reminder, if you or a loved one has a crisis that might involve mental health issues, when you call 911 you can request a CIT-trained officer. Dispatchers across Northeast Ohio know what that means and they can send an officer who has training.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK(8255) connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed. Those in need of mental health or substance abuse help can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).