Law Enforcement And Therapists Partner To Reduce Mental Health Emergencies

May 28, 2019

The number of 911 calls in Bozeman was higher last year than the year before. Many of the calls were related to mental health issuesassaults, domestic disturbances, suicides. Now a first of its kind program two years in the making will pair law enforcement with therapists to prevent mental health emergencies.

Deborah McAtee with the Gallatin Media Center says the new Community Crisis Response program is intended to get mental health services to people when and where they’re needed.

“Right now, if somebody’s having a mental health crisis — they’re suicidal, they’re depressed, whatever usually law enforcement ends up being called for some reason. [If] law enforcement is sufficiently concerned about them, they take them to the emergency room or Hope House where they get evaluated.”

McAtee says riding in the back of a police car or waiting in the ER can be stressful and make someone’s really bad day worse.

“[With Community Crisis Response] you get the therapist out with officers. People get better service because they get the help right when they need it, not three hours later. The therapist hears and sees the same things the officers see. It allows them to stay home where it’s more comfortable. It feels safer for them. All of this is intended to reduce fear for people who are in crisis,” says McAtee.

She says it also frees up police officers to respond to other calls because they aren’t waiting at a facility until the person can be seen by a health professional.

Western Montana Mental Health Center, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and the Bozeman and Belgrade Police Departments are all partners in the program, which will cost around $100,000 for the first year and is slated to start later this summer. They’ll apply for state grants to cover a second therapist.

Michael Foust, executive director of the Western Montana Mental Health Center, says fear is the main reason people do not call 911 during a mental health crisis.

“There’s a lot of reasons for that — a fear of the unknown, a fear of different responses, a fear that someone may not understand,” says Foust.

Sheriff Brian Gootkin says he gets it.

“When the family or whoever calls 911 and we show up in patrol cars with lights and sometimes the fire department’s there, how does that make things better? The whole idea is for us to de-escalate and let’s get these people stabilized and get the help they need,” says Gootkin.

Under the new Community Crisis Response program, when a mental-health call comes into 911, a community based therapist will respond with law enforcement and assess the person in their home or workplace. The therapist will provide crisis counseling and develop a safety plan or admit them to Hope House, a short-term facility in Bozeman for people experiencing mental health related crises.

After the emergency, the therapist, a community support specialist, and a transition coordinator will work together to help people get the services and support they need to reduce future crises.

“We want to move from reaction to responding, and this is going to give us an opportunity to respond to individuals. When we say crisis, I don’t see crisis as a one-time event. Crisis for many people is a continuum of eb and flow of crisis, and so therefore, we need to not just respond one time and leave, we need to stay involved in these individuals’ lives,” says Michael Foust with Western Montana Mental Health Center.

For example, someone might be struggling to pick up their medication from the pharmacy because they don’t have a car. The Community Crisis Response team could try to connect that person with someone who can give them a ride to the pharmacy once a month.

Ryan Mattson worked with Foust to help design the Community Crisis Response program.

“Currently the crisis system largely focuses on a person who are suicidal, homicidal or unable to meet their basic needs due to their mental health,” says Mattson.

He used to work as a therapist in a similar program with the Loveland Police Department in northern Colorado. Mattson says he learned it’s much better to have a system that allows for earlier intervention.

“So whether that be the death of a loved one, whether your partner left you, whether maybe you’re having issues with a child or family member, maybe it’s a domestic violence call. There’s a lot more going on that mental health can be a part of and be a huge asset in,” says Mattson.

He adds the Community Crisis Response program is unique because it has multiple agencies coordinating services.

The community based therapist has already started responding to calls in professional organizations and will begin co-responding with law enforcement this summer.