Butte County Launches New Mental Health Initiative

Originally posted at HealthyCal.
By Lynn Graebner.

When law enforcement and people experiencing a mental health crisis intersect, it’s often not clear to either of them what they are dealing with or how to proceed. A new program in Butte County seeks to make those encounters safer for everyone.

The Butte County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and local law enforcement are offering cards to consumers of mental health services that can contain any information the consumer feels would be important for a first responder to have. That may include their diagnosis, emotional triggers and emergency contacts.

The back of the card carries the emblems of local law enforcement agencies that support it.

“It invites the officer to step out of an enforcement mode and into a public service mode,” said Andy Duch, a captain at the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

“When mentally ill people are approached by law enforcement, just like anyone else, they get incredibly anxious,” said Jason Tate, program manager for the Iversen Wellness and Recovery Center in Chico. “Anxiety and fear can lead to a more challenging time.”

And symptoms of mental illness can appear to police as drug abuse. A manic episode, for instance, can look like methamphetamine use and slurred speech can often be mistaken for drunkenness, Tate said. So a white card explaining unusual behavior may change the interaction with a police officer.

A successful pilot project with cardboard cards was done three years ago. So in April NAMI Butte County started rolling out more substantial plastic ones. Close to 100 have been distributed, said Cathy Gurney, president of NAMI Butte County.

Some leaders in the mental health community fear the cards will increase stigmatization of the mentally ill, painting them as incapable of speaking for themselves or even dangerous.

Read the full story at HealthyCal.

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