Letter to the editor: Lawmakers should maintain funding for mental health response
Summit County sheriff
The recent coronavirus outbreak is placing additional stressors on our communities throughout Colorado. Many people are facing challenges that are taking a financial, physical and mental toll. Even before the outbreak, Summit County’s residents had a significant need for mental health and substance-use services. Summit County’s suicide rate is about three times the national average, and in 2018, county law enforcement responded to more than 2,000 calls related to mental health or substance use.
That’s why we urge the Colorado General Assembly to continue funding for the Peace Officer Mental Health Grant Program, which helps fund Summit County’s co-responder team, also called a Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team. Now more than ever, we should help those experiencing mental illness receive the help they need.
Summit County’s SMART team compriseds a law enforcement officer and a behavioral health specialist to intervene on mental health related police calls. These teams help deescalate situations that have historically resulted in arrest or hospitalization and assess whether the person should be referred for an immediate behavioral health assessment. This approach helps prevent unnecessary incarceration and/or hospitalization of people with mental illness. Instead, it helps stabilize individuals and provides the interventions and treatments necessary to address underlying mental health issues. This program not only addresses the unique mental health needs of our community but it also saves taxpayers money.
Colorado lawmakers face difficult decisions, but we hope they will prioritize critical mental health services that benefit individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis, first responders and our communities.
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