MENTAL HEALTH: Crisis call spike worries Eagan police chief - KMSP-TV

MENTAL HEALTH: Crisis call spike worries Eagan police chief

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Flickr/Creative Commons/Esparta Palma Flickr/Creative Commons/Esparta Palma
EAGAN, Minn. (KMSP) -

A metro police chief tells Fox 9 News he is worried about the increasing number of mental health calls his officers have been answering since he started tracking the numbers -- but experts say they are not surprised by the upward trend due to a lack of resources in Minnesota.

Eagan Police Chief Jim McDonald said he thought the data would show him things were getting better. Instead, the number of calls is on the rise -- and so are his concerns.

For McDonald, it's a two-fold issue. He is compassionate and concerned about what seems to be a rise in the number of residents struggling with mental illnesses in his community, but he's also concerned about his officers, their training, and the amount of time they're spending answering calls related to mental illness.

Just this past Monday, Eagan police were called to a home at 10:30 a.m.

"He had been unsuccessful at getting a job, and he was despondent," McDonald explained.

The man had barricaded himself inside his home and was threatening to kill himself or anyone who came near him. That brought out a team of 20, and they were there for 5 hours before negotiators were able to talk him out.

"I do feel like the officers that managed that saved a life and certainly made a difference, not only his but also for his aunt and mother -- who were also at the scene," McDonald said.

Just a few hours later in the same day, another mental health call came in.

"We ended up hospitalizing her," McDonald said. "She was delusional."

The police chief says it's become the norm to receive two or three mental health calls each day in Eagan. Each time, at least two officers are dispatched -- and McDonald says that's a big concern for the mentally ill, his officers, and the city.

"What happens then is that there's another part of the city that is left uncovered, so our response times would actually go down if there's a person on the other side of the city who needed help," McDonald explained.

Five years ago, McDonald started noticing a rise in the number of mental health calls his department was receiving. In 2007, there were 794 calls. In 2013, there were 1,247 -- a 57 percent increase that shows no signs of slowing down.


MORE: Suicide report shows rise in all age groups in Minnesota


Yet, the big question is: Why?

"In some ways, I'm not surprised," Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said. "It's a good thing that people are reaching out for help."

A lot can probably be blamed on the recession -- no job, no insurance, no money. Although some people think the recession is over, the struggle goes on for many.

But there's another factor in the mix -- a major shortage of mental health professionals. That has left people who live with mental illnesses no choice but to deal with their symptoms on their own instead of getting the help they need.

"What we're seeing is a large number of mental health professionals retiring," Abderholden explained. "We don't have enough new people coming into the system. So, we have a huge workforce shortage that really does need to be addressed."

Sometimes, the wait to see a psychiatrist can stretch to 3 months -- something Abderholden points out doesn't happen with other illnesses.

"If you go to your doctor and he says that you have cancer, he doesn't say, 'Come back when you're at stage 4,'" she said. "That's exactly what we do in the mental health system, say, 'Come back when you're really, really sick and then we'll provide some intensive services."

Meanwhile, McDonald will continue to answer the daily calls from one mentally ill man just as he has for years, doing the best he can to help.

"This guy's doing this nearly every night," McDonald said.

Additional resource:

- NAMIHelps.org

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