By Paola Tristan Arruda | September 30, 2020 at 9:06 PM EDT - Updated September 30 at 11:13 PM
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 Center is utilizing a new resource to deal with mental health and psychiatric-related calls.
Over the last several years, the center has seen an increase in mental health calls. According to the 911 center’s director, Jim Lake, they had 6,466 mental health or psychiatric concern calls in 2019.
Lake said they began discussions with the South Carolina Department of Health about placing a mental health counselor in the 911 center to provide better service. In August, they were able to launch the new partnership.
The center now has a mental health counselor in-house who works Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“What we hope this does is reduces the amount of times we have to send a responder to the scene,” Lake said. “We hope that it gets our callers, our patients into the appropriate care sooner, so we have a better outcome for everybody.”
Marian Rzepkowski is the former president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the Charleston area.
She said she has had to call 911 to help deal with her daughter who has bi-polar disorder. As a mental health advocate, she has also helped train different law enforcement agencies on how to deal with people who have mental illnesses.
“When I used to call them, they really didn’t know what to do and they didn’t know how to handle it,” Rzepkowski said. “I think this is helping everybody.”
Kelly Troyer, the community outreach director for Charleston’s NAMI chapter, has a son with autism. She said she also had to call law enforcement in certain situations.
“In my personal situation, my son is in treatment at the department of mental health, so 98% of the time things are okay,” Troyer said. “Sometimes when his medication gets not ok, he might have behaviors that would seem threatening to me.”
While it is a judgement call about whether to get law enforcement involved, Troyer said it is helpful to give dispatch and law enforcement officers as much information about the situation up front. In the Lowcountry, people can also request a crisis intervention trained officer.
“It’s very different when you’re responding to someone with a mental health condition, so that training is very important when a family calls,” she said. “Don’t call unless you have to but if you have to, the police are here to protect and serve and we’re working with them to help them do the best job they can with our families.”
NAMI offers programs to families and community members that deal with mental health issues. They also conduct crisis intervention training for law enforcement, that teaches de-escalation skills and what to do if they deal with a mental health crisis.
For more information on NAMI in the Charleston area, click here or call (843) 284-3091. The national HelpLine is 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
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