The mental health burden on Maine first responders

First responders and mental illness

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – Mental health issues are something many people battle on a daily basis, but for first responders often these situations can be life or death.

Police, fire and emergency personnel in the state are largely carrying the burden with calls to individuals in distress. Sometimes the response is dramatic.

“Every situation we respond to is different,” Sergeant Jason Madore, the commander with Maine State Police Crisis Negotiation Team, said.

He is one of just 12 negotiators trained to handle the difficult situations often involving those with mental health issues.

"Awareness has definitely increased,” Sergeant Jon Wilson said about the current spotlight on mental health awareness in the state and country. He said he believes much of it is due to more media attention.

The Crisis Negotiation Team was deployed a total of 19 times so far this year, compared to 26 times in all of 2016.

Out of all of those responses, just 13 (out of 45 total) made it out safely, three were suicides and one was recently killed in an officer-involved shooting.

For those they are able to get out safely, both officers said it is rewarding.

"Just that feeling of almost this bond of friendship and you're just happy to have that person come out the residence,” Wilson said.

Negotiators on the team received up to 40 hours of training from the FBI, according to Madore. All police officers now receive a basic mental health training at the academy in coordination with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Maine.

"We train at the cadet level and we train certified people in mental health first aid,” Jenna Mehnert said.

Mehnert, Executive Director of NAMI Maine said there is so much more to be done to properly and adequately train first responders across the state.

"There's specialty certifications for K9 officers or accident reconstructions, crisis negotiation or swat teams, but a mental health call is not the same as a crisis negotiation call,” Mehnert said.

She said often times a full response may not be the best when an individual is in distress, and hopes that the state can invest in mental health experts in the future.

For Sergeants Madore and Wilson, they are part of the small team charged with facing the challenge, and said they are doing all they can to keep people and communities safe.

"Part of bringing them out of crisis is to make them realize their options,” Wilson said.

© 2017 WLBZ-TV


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