Anne Arundel improving approach to mental health; Guest Column
Maryland Gazette - 5/19/2018
May 16 celebrated a national Day of Action for the Stepping Up initiative. The goal of this project is to raise public awareness and to reduce the number of persons who are incarcerated and have mental illness.
By signing up to participate in this movement, Anne Arundel County recognizes that many residents are better served in the community with appropriate supports rather than being incarcerated for minor indiscretions.
With appropriate treatment, these individuals are fully capable of living well as productive members of our communities. The Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency endorses a data-driven, system-level approach that addresses this issue and helps to achieve this goal.
Since the agency has asked the county to participate in this initiative, many projects have been implemented to achieve our goal. Anne Arundel County was the first county in the country to have all of its police officers trained in mental health first aid.
This is a training program designed to help individuals recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health or substance use condition and offer initial support until appropriate professional help arrives. When first responders recognize that an individual's behavior may be the result of a medical condition, they are able to provide appropriate intervention just as they would for a physical crisis.
The program is so successful that it is now part of the police academy curriculum and has been extended to the Annapolis Police Department, members of the Anne Arundel County Public Schools system, the county library system and other partner agencies.
Crisis intervention training is a more intense course that has been introduced and was specifically designed by our agency's Crisis Response System for our police officers. This is a 40-hour training that provides officers with the needed skills to react appropriately to situations involving mental illness, substance use disorders or developmental disability.
A national goal is to have 20 percent of the police force specially trained in CIT. Offering four classes per year, Anne Arundel is well on its way to meet this goal.
Training continues with the Department of Health's efforts to advise the judicial branch of our local government about community programs that divert individuals into treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
The Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency, through its Crisis Response System, has also implemented several diversion programs.
With both a jail diversion program aimed at supporting individuals in the pre-trial area of our judicial system, and a hospital diversion program poised to assist persons in the emergency departments and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations, each of these programs are designed to help individuals get the most appropriate level of treatment.
We expanded the existing Assertive Community Treatment program by adding a second ACT team to support diversion efforts, specifically for the homeless population.
Most recently, the county celebrated its one-year anniversary of the Safe Stations program. The main goal of this initiative is to help individuals with substance use issues get into care when they have made the decision to seek treatment.
Many of these people have had an interaction with the criminal justice system in the past and, by helping these individuals with their recovery goals, future criminal justice interaction can be avoided.
There is always more work that can be done. However, today is an opportunity to celebrate the successes Anne Arundel County has made as we strive to be a model for the state and the country in regard to the behavioral health of our county's residents.
Adrienne J. Mickler is the executive director of the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency. For more information, visit www.aamentalhealth.org.
Credit: Adrienne J. Mickler - Adrienne J. Mickler is the executive director of the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency. For more information, visit www.aamentalhealth.org.