National Alliance on Mental Illness hosts discussion on mental health in Adams County

Published 12:35 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

by Sabrina Simms

NATCHEZ — Representatives with the National Alliance on Mental Illness fostered a discussion Tuesday about how local groups could work together on the area’s need for mental health services.

The group met Tuesday at the Natchez Convention Center with area health professionals, law enforcement and affected families.

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Brent Hurley, who has worked with Mississippi Department of Mental Health in the crisis response division since 2007, said the organization’s crisis intervention team relies on working together to address mental health needs.

“It takes a team approach in the community to do the program,” Hurley said. “It takes a partnership with law enforcement, … mental health (professionals), … and you’ve got to have advocacy there too. That’s the three-legged approach to CIT.”

Hurley said the program started in Memphis when an individual in a mental health crisis was shot and killed by law enforcement. The community responded to the incident and decided something needed to change.

Law enforcement training for CIT developed through a partnership with NAMI, the University of Memphis CIT Center, CIT International and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The 40-hour intensive training course allows officers to learn from mental health professionals, interact with people who have recovered from a mental health crisis, acquire verbal de-escalation skills to dissolve a mental health crisis and experience scenario-based training on responding to crises.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said deputies receive regular calls regarding mental welfare issues. Patten said if someone is unsure of a situation involving someone suspected of having mental health issues or feel unsafe to call local law enforcement.

Patten said CIT officers have the authority to identify and commit individuals in a crisis before a crime takes place. He said Natchez only has three certified CIT officers.

“We need to recognize the signs,” Patten said. “We’ve had several house calls … where situations could have been really bad. We’ve had people barricade themselves in houses … with guns in their hand pointed at officers …

“These team members were able to respond because they recognized the signs and didn’t shoot. They chose to save a life rather than take a life.”

Adams County Chancery Clerk Brandi Lewis said the procedure for mental commitment and care for people in crisis is a critical process which is time sensitive.

“My first year in office we’ve had about 175 commitments,” Lewis said. “My second year … we’ve had about 200 commitments. Certainly, we are not on the decline at all. If anything, the commitments are increasing in number.”

Two forms of commitments that Lewis spoke of are additions to drugs or alcohol and mental health concerns.

Lewis said once a commitment is filed, it can take up to three days for a hearing to be scheduled.

She said a pre-screening, evaluation and hearing usually take place in a single day.

After the hearing, the judge can order for the committed individual to receive care either in or out of a facility. NAMI also offers resources to individuals who are willing to seek help without being committed.

Lewis said the area is in need of a crisis stabilization facility. The nearest unit is in Lauderdale County.

Lewis said funding for a regional CSU unit is currently being sought from the state Legislature.

People who are held in prison without such a facility can become victimized, start fights or have a need for frequent hospitalization.

“I think (a CSU) would be an incredible resource not only for the person committed and in need of treatment, but also for the community as a whole,” Lewis said.

NAMI’s crisis text line is 741-741, or the state office can be reached at 800-357-0388 for more information.