First responders take interactive approach to mental health awareness training

HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. - After seeing a huge spike in mental illness calls over the last few years, officials in Hancock County are taking a new approach to training first responders.

This week, dozens of officers, fire fighters, jail commanders and dispatchers are taking part in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and getting advanced certification to help those with mental illnesses.

On Wednesday, more than 20 officials participated in a role playing simulation exercise called deescalation.

Officers pretended to respond to a call at a gas station for a barefoot woman, pacing, talking to herself and scaring customers. The woman in the exercise had schizophrenia. Officers had to convince her to go to the hospital.

The training is part of helping officers feel comfortable dealing with a variety of mental illnesses and disorders in real-life situations. Those include Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, bi-polar and addiction.

"Almost every day, every minute, I turn on the radio when I’m out driving around, I hear another officer getting dispatched to a mental health crisis," explained Greenfield Police Department Deputy Chief Matt Holland.

The increase in calls for service for mentally ill has presented a unique challenge for dispatchers, officers, fire fighters, EMS and jailers. Health professionals like Amanda Everidge with Hancock Regional Hospital said the training will also help people in the community better connect with and trust emergency officials.

"We look at providing a wide variety of information, really touching on all mental illness in the capacity we can, where we talk about adults, children and elderly," Everidge said.

Since Indiana does not have designated mental health facilities, the goal is to get people the help they need, rather than sending them to jail.

"Our jails now are currently the new mental health facilities," said Hancock County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Bridget Foy.

Beyond the more than 30 hour classroom training, officials will also spend time in the hospital setting, learning where patients go after they transport them.

More than 20 officers and first responders will graduate on Friday. More training is planned for other sessions during the year.