Their View

Program takes mental health crisis response to new level
Monday, June 10, 2019

Gallatin County recently established the first systematic collaboration between mental health professionals and law enforcement in Montana. Based on experiences in other parts of the country, it should have happened a long time ago. And it certainly should become much more widespread in this state.

No matter what the situation, when police officers or sheriff’s deputies show up with badges on their chests and weapons on their belts, the stress level is probably going to go up. And that can mean trouble for everyone involved, especially those who are dealing with mental illness. Now there will be a better way to approach these situations.

Earlier this month, Karen Patty, a crisis therapist with Gallatin Mental Health, took up office space in the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office. She will be called to the scene when officers are confronted with a mental health crisis. In many situations this could make the difference between tragedy and much more positive outcomes.

Local law enforcement agencies have voiced strong support for the program. They say it gives them a much more constructive alternative for responding to victims of mental health crises than just slapping on the cuffs and taking them to the hospital.

The collaboration with Gallatin Mental Health actually began in January as a community-based crisis response pilot program. The health center personnel have been working with police officers and deputies on responding together to situations involving mental health crises. Now that Patty has a desk in the sheriff’s office, she will be given her own car and be available to be dispatched to problem situations.

The pilot program was paid for by private donations, but the money runs out at the end of June. Local governments, Gallatin County and the cities of Bozeman and Belgrade, need to work out a plan to continue this program. By sharing the costs, the financial burden on each government entity will be kept to a minimum. The law enforcement agencies are also hoping to expand the program in the future by putting additional crisis therapists on the payroll.

Historically, advocacy for the victims of mental illness has been sorely lacking in Gallatin County. For far too many years, the policy has been to lock them up or ship them out. Those policies were inhumane and only aggravated problems.

This program is taking mental health crisis response to a new level. It deserves the wholehearted support of all the communities it serves.

— Bozeman Daily Chronicle