Having a mental illness is not a crime. Unfortunately, many people with mental illnesses wind up in jail because they may not always be able to control their actions or perceive reality. Or, they may be committed under the Baker Act, a law which allows a person to be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility if they present a danger to themselves or others. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Mental Health Unit (MHU) was created to reduce both Baker Acts and contact with law enforcement officers among the mentally ill.
The MHU pairs a specially trained deputy with a civilian Crisis Response Specialist to meet with citizens in mental health crisis that may warrant intervention. If a patrol deputy realizes that a citizen has a mental health issue and may be in need of services, they can contact the MHU. Or a team from the MHU may respond directly to a call about a person in crisis.
Once they make contact, the deputy will make sure the scene is secure. Then the Crisis Response Specialist will engage the subject, evaluating their mental state and determining their willingness to receive help. All of the services are voluntary.
MHU members will tell them about available services, especially the Pinellas Integrated Care (PIC). PIC can connect citizens to counseling, medication, substance abuse treatment, job services, housing, and insurance options. Navigating the world of mental health services can be difficult, for both patients and their families. The MHU tries to make a scary, chaotic situation as easy to manage as possible, removing the barriers to positive mental health management.
After the initial contact, PIC will usually follow up in three days. The MHU then meets with the PIC team once a week to discuss the clients they serve.
The MHU was expanded last year. Today there are six deputies and two Clearwater Police officers who pair with eight civilian Crisis Response Specialists. The program has been so successful that the MHU recently won the PCSO Unit Award for its excellent work.
It can be challenging, and sometimes disappointing. Clients who are enthusiastic in the beginning may stop using the services designed to help them. Many also have substance abuse issues that complicate their mental health care. But the many success stories make it worthwhile. Thanks to the MHU, more citizens with mental health issues are staying out of jail and receiving the services they need.
For more information about mental health education and support, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org. If you know a child or young adult experiencing a mental health crisis, you can contact the Pinellas Mobile Crisis Response Team at 727-362-4424. For an emergency situation, as always, call 911.
Non Emergency Line: (727) 582-6200 | In an Emergency call 911ADA info