Minnetonka Police Department, local counseling center team up for home visits

Mental health crisis calls are on the rise.

The Minnetonka Police Department has teamed up with Relate Counseling Center in Minnetonka to provide a crisis aftercare program. Officers, accompanied by a therapist, will soon visit residents in the days after they make a mental health or suicidal ideation call to the cops.

“The intent is to put a face to the actual resource and have immediate access to therapists instead of just us handing off a card and saying, ‘Here, give them a call,’” said Scott Marks, the department’s community engagement officer.

Currently, the procedure in place for mental health calls is as follows: An officer responds to a 911 call and assesses if the person in crisis is a danger to themselves or others. If that person does pose a risk, he or she gets taken into custody and brought to a hospital for further evaluation. That person is held until stabilized, then released.

The new procedure, which will tentatively begin in January, will allow an officer and mental health professional to follow up with the person once he or she is in a more stable mindset, which would be a day or two after the hospital notifies the police department of his or her release.

Mental health calls are on the rise. In 2017, the department received 393 mental health and suicidal ideation calls, some of which were completed suicides. In comparison, the department took 120 of these types of calls in 2005. The problem isn’t only happening in Minnetonka.

“Departments are seeing this all over. It’s even beyond Minnesota,” Marks has said.

It’s not only mental health calls that require an aftercare visit.

“The focus is really on those crisis calls, but we could encounter someone in crisis on any call. It might be a traffic stop or a domestic situation,” Marks said.

Repeated calls for other issues can also indicate a mental illness.

“Why are we going to a house repeatedly for a domestic issue? Is there an underlying mental health component?” Marks said.

Marks received a $1,000 grant in August to get the program started. Now, its launch depends on whether Relate Counseling Center receives enough funding from grants. Additionally, donations are accepted online at relatemn.org/donate-now; donors must specify that they would like their money to go to this particular cause.

Relate Counseling Center, which has been in Minnetonka for 50 years, had been looking for a way to delve deeper into the community.

“We know there’s a stigma around mental health, so oftentimes people don’t come into the system. So how do we really make sure we’re maximizing our impact?” mused Beth Schneider, the president of the center’s board of directors.

The answer became clear when Marks joined the board as a law enforcement representative. Shortly thereafter, the counseling center and police department became partners in the crisis aftercare program.

“We want to improve access for people who need to come into the mental health care system and help them get over that first hurdle. Hopefully, these visits will make it easier for people to reach out a second time,” Schneider said.

In the meanwhile, a group of interested officers will take a 40-hour training to earn crisis intervention certifications, which involves about 15 hours of role play with trained actors who perform like a person in crisis might react in various scenarios.

In addition to the crisis aftercare program, Marks is working on launching a formalized officer wellness program for the department that focuses on physical health, spiritual health and mental health, which includes hiring a retired law enforcement official for therapy.

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