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October 22, 2013

Mental health calls on rise for Oneonta police

(Continued)

Matt, who agreed with Brenner on factors leading to the increasing numbers of mental health calls, said the Mental Health clinic and city police have a good relationship in terms of responding to crisis situations and observing patients of multiple calls.

The Otsego County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has advocated for law enforcement to gain skills in responding to crisis calls, especially since Oneonta police started using Taser electric-shock guns, Matt said.

The program will be led by a retired Rochester police sergeant, Eric Weaver, executive director of Overcoming the Darkness, his business that works to reduce stigma and increase understanding toward mental illness.

On Monday, Dr. Celeste Johns, chief of psychiatry at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, responded to questions about mental illness and responding to emergency calls.

"Most data shows that the number of people presenting for emergency psychiatric care is increasing, but a lot of that is due to better identification and more awareness,” Johns said.

“Some of it may be societal as more individuals and families are facing job loss, extended unemployment and financial difficulties,” Johns said. “We have also seen an escalation in substance abuse involving drugs we didn't use to see as much in central New York, such as heroin and prescription pain killers."

Matt said with active-shooter situations in schools and public places in recent years, mental health professionals and the law enforcement community have been striving to learn and understand about factors involved, Matt said.

“People are working much more together with the agenda of personal and community safety,” Matt said. The expected turnout for Wednesday's program is “great,” she said, because though the workshop attendance is free, participants are paid, which is an expense to communities and employers.

Eight officers from the Oneonta Police Department, for example, represents a “huge commitment,” Matt said.

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