Sen. Neal Kedzie: Legislature addresses dangerous mental health situations
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in the aftermath of horrendous mass shootings, there has been a call to action regarding mental health issues. Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed to raise awareness and educate communities about various psychological disorders, while working to reduce mental illness stigmas.
Last session, the Legislature made an investment in mental health services, including funding for Peer Run Respite Centers, creation of a primary care and psychiatry shortage grant program, and improved access to mental health care for rural areas through Telehealth.
The budget provides $30 million to expand mental health services and funds coordinated service teams, creates the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health, expands in-home counseling for children, expands Comprehensive Community Services, and funds additional forensic units at the Mendota Mental Health Center.
In addition, two bills were enacted to address more dangerous mental health situations. The first, Wisconsin Act 132, expands mobile crisis teams, which are composed of mental health professionals, nurses, social workers, psychologists, peer counselors, addiction specialists and law enforcement trained in responding to individuals with mental illnesses. These teams defuse crisis situations and respond to individuals with mental health issues who are acting out. Not every Wisconsin county has a certified crisis team, thus the new law will assist those counties seeking to establish mobile crisis teams.
Wisconsin Act 126 directs the Department of Health Services to award grants for mental health Crisis Intervention Team training. The CIT program trains police officers to effectively respond to citizens experiencing behavioral crises. The law also includes CIT training for correctional officers who need to respond to individuals with mental health diagnoses.
CIT training is 40 hours long and consists of lectures on mental health-related topics, available community-based services, interactive de-escalation skills training, and on-site visits. The law allows law enforcement and correctional officers to be trained in sensitive protocols and have alternative options that may help avoid a dangerous situation. CIT training informs law enforcement and correctional officers about mental illnesses, recognizing symptoms and using nonviolent, de-escalating techniques to reduce the possibility of harm to the individual, the officer or the community.
The objectives of CIT training include reducing injuries among the public, mental health consumers, and officers; reducing repeat contacts with mental health consumers; reducing criminalization of mental health consumers who interact with the criminal justice system; improving working relationships between law enforcement and mental health providers; increasing involvement of friends and family of mental health consumers; reducing civil commitments; and lowering costs through better use of services.
Both laws should offer methods for medical caregivers and law enforcement to use successful ways to deal with individuals with mental health issues. The quality of mental health services affects individuals, families and even communities. The goal of these programs and funding is to ensure all individuals get the care they need, and to provide those who assist such individuals with the necessary resources and tools to do so.
Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, represents the 11th Senate District. Contact him at Room 313 South, state Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882; phone 608-266-2635; Sen.Kedzie@legis.Wisconsin.gov.