By Madeline Heim
Published Feb. 22 2022
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APPLETON – A clinical therapist will now respond alongside officers to some mental health crisis calls made to the Appleton Police Department.
Sarah Peterson, a therapist who has worked with Outagamie County crisis services, will embed with the police department on second shift to provide on-site clinical evaluations and risk assessments for people experiencing a mental health crisis, a Thursday news release from the department said.
Peterson’s role is part of a new Community Crisis Response Team, a partnership between local mental health services and law enforcement designed to connect people faster with more appropriate resources.
Last September, staff from the Northeast Wisconsin Mental Health Connection’s suicide prevention initiative laid out plans to counteract a rising tide of people calling 911 because of a mental health crisis. Between March and November 2020 in the Fox Valley, 755 people experiencing suicidal thoughts called 911, a 60% increase in calls for that purpose.
At the time, suicide prevention specialists said they wanted to develop an “ideal response” to those crises that would take the pressure off law enforcement and direct people to better care — not to a busy emergency room.
Embedding a therapist with the police department was part of those plans. The idea has picked up steam across the country amid growing awareness that sending officers to respond to a mental health crisis can worsen outcomes for the person calling for help, especially people of color.
The city of Milwaukee uses a similar program where police and counselors respond to mental health calls together.
Funding for the crisis response team in Appleton came from the city, Outagamie County, United Way Fox Cities and the Bright Ideas Fund at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, the news release said.
Those involved hope the team can reduce emergency calls for crisis service and, long-term, develop better strategies to help people in the region experiencing mental health or alcohol or drug-related crises.
If you need to connect to local mental health support, MyConnectionNEW.org contains a searchable database of resources for a variety of issues, including emergency hotlines.