By Gavin T. Jensen
Part of law enforcement officer’s job is to defuse a situation before it gets out of hand.
Another part is keeping the spark from being lit in the first place.
That’s where a better understanding of mental illness can help – and where a new partnership between the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Office and the National Alliance on Mental Illness comes in.
The department is teaming up NAMI Sauk Area to take a multi-pronged approach to dealing with mental illness by spreading awareness, encouraging people to seek help, providing resources, and training deputies to better understand and deal with people suffering from mental health issues.
“We want to provide the best assistance to the mentally ill in the county, and this partnership can help do that,” Whiteside County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy John Booker said.
The assistance will come from planned initiatives such as the Family-to-Family program and family support groups – a strategy borrowed from Lee County, where law enforcement agencies and NAMI collaborated on similar efforts.
The programs are designed to educate family members and caregivers of people living with mental illness, and provide information on coping mechanisms and medication.
“We were so excited when Whiteside reached out to us for help,” NAMI President Tracy Brooks said.
Taking another page from Lee County’s playbook, the sheriff’s office plans to create a Whiteside County Crisis Intervention Team, to identify and help people in the early stages of mental illness. In Lee County the police department, sheriff’s office, Sinnissippi Centers, KSB and NAMI formed a similar team.