By Peggy Huppert
Two years ago I was suddenly immersed in the world of mental health policy and advocacy when I began my job as executive director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Iowa.
One of my biggest “a-ha” moments was understanding how valuable the support of law enforcement is in the struggle for better mental health services and what wonderful allies they are.
I now frequently say that if anyone truly understands the impact and potentially devastating consequences of serious mental illness, it’s law enforcement. That’s because they deal with it on a regular, if not daily, basis.
I was introduced to this concept at the national NAMI conference in July 2016 when I attended a presentation by a sheriff who talked about the evidence-based approach he’d adopted to divert people with serious mental illness from arrest and to make sure they’re taken care of properly if they are arrested.
Fast forward to Iowa’s first Stepping Up Summit in October 2017, when nearly 300 county officials gathered to discuss how they are doing the same things and how those practices can be replicated across the state. Iowa leads the nation in the number of counties who have signed the Stepping Up agreement, pledging to reduce the number of arrests and incarcerations of people with serious mental illness. Organized by the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC), the event attendance and participation were outstanding. We’re doing it again this year.