Police officers work to erase mental health stigma while respond - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Police officers work to erase mental health stigma while responding to spike in calls

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Law enforcement officials say mental health calls are on the rise, so officers across the area are learning to respond appropriately while also working to erase the stigma.  

"If you ask most people, what are the most pressing challenges to law enforcement? You're gonna hear things such as drug abuse, or violent crimes, or maybe even race relations," said Officer John Thomas with the Elizabethtown Police Department.

But Thomas says the issue that not enough people talk about is mental illness. 

"Usually, there are calls involving the mentally ill almost every day," Thomas said.

Over the past year, Elizabethtown Police Department's mental health calls jumped by 30 percent. It's a trend seen nationwide.

"They have gone up every year, and it seems that in the last couple years, they began to jump at a much higher rate," Thomas said.

That's where retired police Sgt. Merle Young comes in. He trains officers across the state in CIT, or Crisis Intervention Team Training.

"We want them to instill hope and help, and safety and security, to that person with mental illness," Young said.

CIT officers can identify signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, learn communication and de-escalation strategies, and use a more careful approach. 

"Give them a little bit more time, talk a little bit softer, not be as much of a command presence," Young said.

Since 2007, more than 700 Kentucky police officers have been CIT-certified, including officers with LMPD

Young says mental health is an issue that deserves the attention.

"Mental illness is not like it was when I was a kid back in the 60s," he said. "It wasn't, you know, 'Uncle Eddie's just a little off.' Now, it's more, 'How as a community can we help these individuals?'"

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