A Fresh Perspective

Partnering to Provide the Gift of a Fresh Perspective
New Insights are Opening Doors and Capacity for Compassion

Veteran public safety officers from the University Hospital’s Psychiatric Emergency Services had just returned from a full-day in the field with GCB care managers.  Each of the plain-clothed officers shadowed a care manager as they went about a normal work day, meeting with clients, all of whom receive a variety of mental health services.

The officers all met at least one person during the afternoon that they recognized from frequent visits to the hospital.  Joe E. knew one of them well.  “I’ve only witnessed this individual at his worst,” he said, “in handcuffs and raging. To see him functioning completely normally in the community, on his medication, was remarkable.  We went grocery shopping at Meijer.  We carried on a converation.” 

The officers had participated in the CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) Program, sponsored by Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio (MHA), and in partnership with many non-profits in the area who have clients with varying degrees of mental health issues.

The program launched in Memphis in the 1980’s, as a grassroots effort by moms whose children, all who experienced mental illness to some degree, had tragic interactions with law enforcement.  Today, there is a CIT program in every state, all coordinated at the county level. Developed as a community partnership between consumers, advocates, service providers and law enforcement, the 40-hour week-long training is typically offered locally up to six times a year. 

The trainings include classtime presentations by partnership professionals on subjects ranging from Homelessness, Mental Illness and Developmental Disabilities, to Substance Use Disorders and High-Risk Behavior.  The program is offered to first responders, including Fire & Rescue, dispatchers and law enforcement, as well as FBI and Homeland Security.  Particpation can be voluntary as well as mandated. 

The training exists primarily to promote safe and humane responses to those experiencing a mental health and/or addiction who are in crisis. The training also includes a role play session as well as community shadowing. The participants can spend the day with one of many agency partners, however, GCB accommodates the majority of individuals due to its size.

Lisa Monast is an Education Specialist with the MHA, as well as its CIT coordinator.  “Lack of knowledge breeds fear,” says Lisa.  “Shining the light on the issue of mental illness greatly increases the participant’s understanding and capacity for compassion.  A different perspective might prevent the need for a hands-on approach, provided safety isn’t comprimised.”

Many local police departments have their own internal CIT teams, all of whom have taken the training and participate in on-going, advanced CIT training.  Bonus results from training could include improved officer and consumer safety as well as improved interagency communication. 

 “Next time I see this situation in the E.R.,” says Joe, “our approach will be different.  Instead of crowding him, which is standard procedure, we’re going to give him space - because now I know he’s paranoid and that is the best response.”

“Trying to discern someone’s behavor as illness-related vs. acting out is difficult,” Joe added.  “This training was helpful.” 

Neal Connor is a GCB team supervisor and CIT coordinator. “This experience not only allows officers to learn more about the issues our clients face, but also allows the officers and care managers the opportunity to share experiences and perspectives.”

The community shadowing helps officers understand what we do; we are a resource,” says Neal.  “There is a bias on both sides, police as well as staff.  Each side comes away with a new understanding on perspective.”

“Changing the outcome from jail to mental health services,” says Lisa.  “That’s the success story.”