Improving Mental Health and Law Enforcement Interactions in NH

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Published: 01/30/2022 09:01:33

Modified: 01/30/2022 09:00:06

There is always room for improvement in everything we do. Being open to constructive criticism is essential if you want to improve your product or service. Think about the advancements in technology from year to year.

Improvements have been driven by customer experience, needs and interests. However, inspiring to do better every day should not negate the achievements made over time. Our successes should also be honored and celebrated.

Much has been said in recent months about the interactions between people living with mental illness and law enforcement. We have heard of the catastrophic results, including the loss of life of the person living with mental illness and/or addiction, as well as the severe trauma experienced by the law enforcement professionals involved.

These situations are tragic and deserve careful consideration of the circumstances and facts. The hope is that we might develop ways to avoid negative outcomes in the future.

At the same time, it is important to recognize the progress made in supporting people living with mental illness not only in times of crisis, but also as they lead successful and fulfilling lives in the community.

For many years, Riverbend Community Mental Health has worked closely with Concord’s first responders. The Riverbend Board of Directors was fortunate to have retired NH Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes, Concord Police Department Chief Brad Osgood, and the Department’s Deputy Chief of Administration. of Concord, John Chisholm. All three are full members of a diverse board responsible for several key strategic initiatives, including integrated approaches to dealing with people in crisis.

We are also grateful for the leadership of Chief Osgood and that of Security Commissioner Robert Quinn. They have spent countless hours training their teams on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and de-escalation techniques when working with people in psychiatric crisis.

Additionally, Commissioner Quinn was recently honored for the work he has done in helping his soldiers deal with daily stress, burnout, critical incident reporting and post-traumatic stress.

The Mobile Crisis Response Team has been active at Concord for six years. Over the past three years, Riverbend alone has answered 11,904 calls to help someone in a psychiatric crisis. The Mobile Emergency Response Team was deployed 1,017 times to community locations. Of those calls, 69 were referrals from the police department. By working together, we have reduced the need to use force to manage a situation.

The other nine community mental health centers in New Hampshire are engaged in similar processes. With the January 1 implementation of the Rapid Response Access Point and Rapid Response Teams, all of New Hampshire now has access to mobile crisis services.

Although a high percentage of incarcerated people also live with mental illness, the vast majority of people living with mental illness are not involved in the criminal justice system. They are not violent, they are not dangerous.

Consider this. Riverbend serves over 7,000 people a year. 95% live in the community. Most are employed either independently or through the supported employment program. They attend outpatient clinics, pay taxes, and have families and friends who love them. They deserve to be treated with kindness, compassion, dignity and respect, just like anyone else living with another disease.

We all strive to do better every day. We will continue to work with our law enforcement colleagues and other first responders in a spirit of collaboration. We will continue to have high expectations of ourselves and the services we provide. People living with mental illness and/or addiction deserve nothing less.

(Lisa K. Madden, MSW, is president and CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health Center and vice president of behavioral health at Concord Hospital.)

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