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Guest Opinion: the mental health crisis is growing, but here’s some good news

Guest opinion column by County Supervisor Sue Frost–
Every year, our local law enforcement is receiving more and more dispatch calls for people experiencing a mental health crisis. Unfortunately, far too many of these people don’t get the help they need and wind up downtown in the Sacramento County Main Jail for a few days because our officers don’t have any other option than to arrest them.

Sue Frost, supervisor
Sue Frost

The obvious answer, of course, is to send them support instead of send them to jail – which is exactly what Sacramento County started doing last year when my colleagues and I voted to approve funding for several Mobile Crisis Support Teams (MCSTs). I wanted to take the opportunity this month to explain to you exactly how these MCSTs work, what they have experienced since starting, and how we move forward from here.

Each time a service call comes in through 911 involving someone having a mental health crisis, a Sheriff’s car with two people are dispatched to the scene that contains a Sheriff’s Deputy trained in crisis intervention training, and a licensed senior mental health counselor. These pairs are permanent partners that ride together in 10-hour shifts.

When the MCST shows up to the scene, they immediately start talking with the person experiencing the crisis to determine what struggles they may have. They go into the situation explaining that they are just there to help, and the mental health counselor often physically shows that they do not carry any weapons on them to calm the situation down.

They are then connecting them to services they may need, like drug treatment, the brand new voluntary mental health crisis center, seeing a health counselor, or a variety of other things. A day or two later, a peer navigator is reaching out to them to further help connect them to necessary resources.

One of the teams that I recently spoke with told me that they have already seen the positive impacts of this program. Almost immediately they were reducing unnecessary arrests, decreasing involuntary mental health confinement in our jail, and making a real impact in homelessness (which are around 35-40% of the calls they receive). Non-MCST Sheriff’s are even utilizing the program, as when they are out on the scene and see the MCST could be useful, they will call the MCST out to come help them.

The problem the MCSTs are facing right now is that there are far too many mental health crisis dispatch calls than they can possibly handle. There are only two teams right now that cover north of the American River, and on top of that, they only work four days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. One of those two teams is split between the cities of Folsom and Citrus Heights.

We need these teams to cover all hours of the day, seven days a week, and we need more of them.

That’s why I am pleased to announce that the County is in the midst right now of hiring the senior mental health counselor who will be a part of the third team north of the American River. I recognize that we still need significantly more teams, but it is a step in the right direction and I believe that Citrus Heights will feel the difference.

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served as a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights. She will host her next community meeting in Citrus Heights at City Hall on Sept. 20, at 6 p.m.

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