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Crisis Intervention Training at Cascade an ‘Eye-Opener’ for Police

More and more, police and corrections officers are coming in contact with people suffering from a mental health crisis.

“These guys — they’re all junior psychologists,” said Dr. Kevin St. Jacques, a clinical psychologist and mental health counselor who led a class Wednesday at Cascade Mental Health in Centralia.

This week, Cascade Mental Health hosted a week-long crisis intervention training geared toward law enforcement. The training was organized by the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission. 

“This is my first time going through this particular training,” said Commander Stacy Denham, of the Centralia Police Department. “I think it’s a real eye-opener.”

Starting Monday, the 23 participants began reviewing signs and symptoms of mental disorders, working with children, adults and the elderly with mental illnesses, and how to best assess possible safety risks. 

“This is our third year hosting the critical incident team training,” said Jessica Stickley, clinical administrator for the supportive stabilization service team at Cascade, and one of the organizers of the event. “One of the reasons it’s successful is it connects officers with a team of clinicians.”

Officers learned about resources and treatments for mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans and others, chemical dependency, and ultimately, how to deescalate crises involving mentally ill or disturbed people.

“It teaches them verbal de-escalation skills,” Stickley said. “It gives them skills on how to go through kind of verbal de-escalation before they have to go through a physical deescalation.”

Officers from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Centralia Police Department, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the Lacey Police Department, among other jurisdictions, participated in the training. 

St. Jacques led a class Wednesday on “assessment and deescalation of emotionally disturbed individuals.”

Basically, the class taught officers how to recognize and tailor their approach to different types of mental illnesses or conditions. 

“They’re really open to it,” Jacques said of the officers in the training. “I would have thought there would be more pushback.”

The class discussed issues such as psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, mania, suicidal tendencies and more. St. Jacques gave officers tips on how to talk to children, as well as adults, who may be struggling with mental health issues, from depression and anxiety to more complicated disorders.

“It’s stuff they see all the time,” St. Jacques said. 

Learning about mental illnesses and how they can make a person behave and think “reduces the amount of adverse interactions” between police and the mentally ill, he said. 

“They’re not therapists. They’re not trained to be therapists,” Jacques said. 

However, jails have become some of the biggest mental health facilities across the state and country, he said, and the more an officer understands about mental illness, the better he or she can handle a potential crisis situation. 

“It makes sense to better understand these processes that they’re going through … and have a much better outcome as far as getting services,” Denham said. “That’s what I’m taking away from this.”

SEP 30 2016 By Natalie Johnson

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