That’s a question Brenda Venice hears frequently and one she would like to answer for as many people as possible before a crisis ever happens.
Brenda leads the National Alliance on Mental Illness Bristol County affiliate group which is based in Fall River and covers the entire county. She’s been doing this work as a volunteer for 25 years and has a broad base of knowledge that she shares with people who call the local office, including what to do when a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis.
Unfortunately, she explained, the answer isn’t as straightforward as it could be. Even in this one county, she said, there are multiple emergency service providers who cover specific towns and cities that people need to be aware of.
“Every area is different,” Brenda said. “Fall River has Bay Cove (Emergency Services) and New Bedford has Child & Family Services…We’re all different — that’s why it’s so hard to know what to do.”
To help people understand the process and system in each area of Bristol County, Brenda is working on a series of free virtual workshops where participants can get firsthand answers about what to do when a crisis, or even before a crisis, hits. Each workshop will feature speakers from the emergency service providers responsible for that area.
The workshops began as an idea she had after reading about a situation in Pennsylvania where a family’s call for an ambulance resulted in tragedy, when things turned violent. Situations like these can be avoided if people have the information they need about how the system works, she said.
“It’s time to come out and say, ‘What do I do in a crisis situation? How do I get my loved one help before it escalates,’” said Brenda. “It’s not a wrong or right thing. It’s mostly an educational thing where the ESP (emergency service provider) and police department say how they do this.”
“That’s why I’m having this series so people will know what to do,” she continued. “We want to get them the help before it escalates.”
The first workshop will cover Fall River and will be held on Dec. 21. The virtual one-hour event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with speakers Jaime Shorten, LMHC, assistant director of emergency services programs with Boston Medical Center in collaboration with Bay Cove Emergency Services, and Lt. Andrew Cook from the Fall River Police Department. Their presentations will be followed by a brief question and answer period.
A similar workshop is being set up for the New Bedford area and is expected to be held in January.
Registration is required. To participate in the Dec. 21 event, email Brenda at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will send you a Zoom link or call-in number with password to be used that evening.
For more information on the local affiliate and the events they hold, visit the NAMI Bristol County website.