The challenge and complexity of mental health issues in our community is growing and – since the onset of the COVID pandemic – has now reached a critical stage. How do we as a community respond to and provide help to people in the middle of a crisis?
The Appleton Police Department and Outagamie County Health and Human Services recently launched a new two-year pilot program that is taking a unique look at mental health situations and how to help respond when people are experiencing a mental health crisis. A few weeks ago the program embedded a clinical therapist into the police department to respond to calls.
This pilot program has been two years in the making, and the planning took the expertise, collaboration, and support from a lot of people convened around the table, now the Community Crisis Response Team. Their goal is to help community members access the appropriate level of care by providing on-site clinical evaluations and risk assessments for those experiencing a mental health crisis.
The pilot program received generous support including a $25,000 grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation.
As part of our Voices from the Valley podcast, we had a chance to gather some members of that team for a conversation about how this pilot came to be, what we’ve learned so far, and the difference it’s already making in just a few weeks.
The clinical therapist is the first of its kind at the department and is improving the way responders can provide critical services to a person in crisis. The role has been filled by Sarah Peterson, MSW, LCSW, who has worked for the past three years at Outagamie County Crisis as a clinical therapist. Utilizing a multidisciplinary approach, Sarah responds with patrol officers as part of the newly developed Community Crisis Response Team.
“The challenge and complexity of mental health issues in our community is growing and is at a critical stage,” says Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas. “The collaboration and partnership of all the service providers, with substantial input from those with lived experiences, will make a monumental improvement in how we provide safe services to people in crisis.”
The Community Crisis Response Team’s primary mission is to help community members access the appropriate level of care by providing on-site clinical evaluations and risk assessments for those experiencing a mental health crisis. “I’m proud of our collaboration with the Appleton Police Department,” says Tom Nelson, Outagamie County Executive. “Our partnership is changing the way forward by adding a layer of confidence in our officers who serve the community by having a mental health professional embedded in the department.”