NAMI inspires crisis management training for law enforcement

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Staff photo by Rebecca BunchBetsy Johhnstone of Edenton, president of the Albemarle area chapter of NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness), listens to a question during a Crisis Management held at Edenton Baptist Church on April 6.

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By Rebecca Bunch
Staff writer

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Officers from the Edenton Police Department and the Chowan County Sheriff’s Office have signed up for training on Crisis Management as a result of an April 6 seminar that took place in Edenton.

The EPD officers are scheduled to take part in training this spring while four officers from the sheriff’s department will be headed for training scheduled to take place at Martin Community College in Martin County in June.

The event was co-sponsored by NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Albemarle, Vidant Bertie and Vidant Chowan Hospitals. The program took place at Edenton Baptist Church with more than 50 law enforcement and mental health professionals in attendance.

NAMI Albemarle President Betsy Johnstone of Edenton said she was deeply touched by the response.

“Something is really stirring here in Chowan County,” she said. “God is working in the hearts and minds of the members of our community to lift the stigma that continues to surround mental illness and to improve resources for those suffering with it.”

“The interest and attendance at this seminar should give great hope to those individuals and their families who struggle with the darkness and isolation of mental illness to know a light is beginning to shine in their direction,” she added.

Johnstone explained that seminars such as this one are helpful in providing access to information and training. This particular seminar, she said, offered presenters from the Mobile Crisis Team from Integrated Family Services and a Crisis Intervention Team sponsored by Trillium talking about how they provide services that can be used in stabilizing any kind of behavioral health crisis.

“This not only helps individuals who are in crisis, it helps to ease the burdens on our hospital emergency services and lessen the direct involvement of law enforcement,” she said.

Johnstone said the event not only provided a means for a large cross-section of the region’s stakeholders “to gain information about crisis management – it provided a rare forum for them to ask questions and share viewpoints from their various perspectives.”

The four counties represented at the seminar were Chowan, Bertie, Perquimans, and Pasquotank.

Keith Hamm was the featured clinician for Mobile Crisis Management, while Sara Stanton and Heather Giless filled that role in providing information on Crisis Intervention Team Training geared toward law enforcement.

The 40-hour training program “is available for our police and sheriff’s office to provide tools to de-escalate and stabilize a behavioral health crisis,” Johnstone said. “The outcome of this training is diversion from the hospital emergency department and jail. In many cases, officers who have been able to stabilize a situation can then call Mobile Crisis to take over.”

The Crisis Intervention Training they will receive meets a nationwide standard and represents a cherished hope of local NAMI officials including Johnstone.

“It has been a major goal of NAMI Albemarle to have more of our officers, both from the police and sheriff departments, receive this training,” she said. “Currently only one Edenton Police Officer, Corporal Trey Lassiter, has been certified in CIT.”

The goal of the training is to enable officers to go into any mental health or substance abuse-related crisis and be able to effectively work to diffuse the situation to divert people from having to go to a hospital or be incarcerated.

Assistance can be provided in a variety of situations, Johnstone said, including:

• Suicidal or depressed persons

• Persons with homicidal tendencies

• Domestic violence

• Emergency petitions

• Family education

• Delusional and psychotic persons

• Death notification and support

• Links to Mental Health services

• Links to Detox

• Family and Marital conflicts

Hamm offered examples of situations where Mobile Crisis Team members have been called in including some that might not be immediately obvious such as assisting an office staff in unexpectedly dealing with a tragedy or perhaps being summoned to help a family deal with their resulting shock and grief following a suicide.

He emphasized that anyone can access these services, whether or not they have insurance. Once the team is sent to the location an assessment is done and services to provide appropriate follow-up will be arranged.

Stanton and Gilees said that even though sometimes an arrest takes place in the case of laws being broken, officers would still be able to talk with suspects about the benefits of getting help for their addiction.

“Sometimes folks are going to have to get arrested but the officer can tell them about resources for when they get out,” Stanton said. “We know officers are going to have better tools to deal with situations. We’re going to give them more than they have now.”