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Adding mental health professionals to crisis calls makes good sense

The recent shift to include professional healthcare assistance on emergency calls that involve mental or behavioral health emergencies is growing here in the Southcoast.

And that's a good thing.

Across the country communities are struggling with an increasing number of mental health calls that require nonviolent solutions that don't use incarceration as a solution to mental illness.

Too often police departments are the first responders with officers who, depending on the department, may or may not have had adequate training on how to defuse situations safely. It's a response that has been backfiring with sometimes tragic consequences that don't benefit anyone involved, including police officers.

It's also a response that has been influenced by ongoing stigma around mental health disorders, especially the belief that those with mental illness are frequently violent.

There's a lot that needs to be changed in how we, as a society, respond to mental health calls, but Dartmouth Week's recent story by journalist Sandy Quadros Bowles offers some hope.

Quadros Bowles spoke with Dartmouth Police Chief Brian Levesque on the town's partnership with mental health providers to help them better respond to mental or behavioral health crisis calls.

Dartmouth has been working with Child & Family Services' Mobile Crisis Team for 18 months, Quadros Bowles reported, receiving support on site or by phone and is considering expanding the program to include bringing mental health staff on ride-alongs in the future.

In addition to Dartmouth, Director of the Emergency Services Program Pam Bolarinho said Child & Family Services also partners with the New Bedford Police Department and has assisted Fairhaven police as well, although that's not yet an official collaboration.

Here’s hoping it becomes one and that other towns also join in, reaching out to tap these skilled local resources.

As Chief Levesque told Quadros Bowles, having mental health professionals present sends a different message to people and families in crisis, while also offering his staff beneficial on-the-job training.

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