Chief Concerns: Community effort underway to address mental illness
April 7, 2015
Last month, the City Manager and City Council hosted a strategic planning session with all City departments to ensure we are coordinated and pulling together to address key community issues. Community wellness is one such focus area.
On a daily basis, South Lake Tahoe Police officers respond to calls for service involving people who are having mental health crises. All too often, the services available are limited, especially when those calls occur in the middle of the night. Sometimes, these people also commit crimes and are arrested, then put into the jail for the crimes they commit.
In March, Barton Hospital and the South Tahoe Unified School District hosted a mental health forum, which included more than 80 people who are community leaders or work in the mental health arena. This effort is well underway with plans to bolster community awareness, improve organizational responsiveness and ultimately get people who need support, the help they need.
Also in March, Judge Kingsbury, and officials from South Lake Tahoe Police Department, El Dorado County Sheriff's Department, El Dorado County Health Department, and others, met to coordinate an effort to obtain a grant to help provide more local support for those with mental health issues. If the grant acquisition effort is successful more resources will be focused on helping those people who commit crime and also have mental illness.
In South Lake Tahoe we experience a suicide rate that is much too high. Health experts also recognize that many with mental health issues also self-medicate with illegal drugs.
Obviously, this trend is alarming. In the coming months, mental health authorities are supporting the police department with special crisis intervention training. It is hoped that we can help with turning this around in the coming year by providing better services earlier in the cycle of need.
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Now that I have given you some information about what is underway, you might ask, "what can I do to help?" In South Lake Tahoe, we are lucky to have many great non-profits that specialize in supporting those with mental illness. One idea might be to seek out such an organization and offer help. If this doesn't appeal to you, there may be other opportunities. In the U.S., May is Mental Health Awareness Month — stay tuned to this topic and I am sure you will learn more specific ways to help. Lastly, it might be helpful to review the following link just in case you have friends or family members you are worried about. https://www.afsp.org/preventing-suicide/suicide-warning-signs.
Come January of 2016, I will be asking staff to compile these statistics again. Let's work tirelessly to make sure our friends or family members will not be a sad statistic in the future.
Brian T. Uhler is the South Lake Tahoe Police Chief.