Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office addresses mental health amongst uptick in crisis calls

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Deputies
Posted at 8:10 AM, Dec 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-15 10:10:47-05

HELENA, MT. — Every year around the holidays, law enforcement sees an uptick in responding to crisis calls according to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office. They say mental health does not discriminate and can affect anyone, especially the officers responding to them.

Brian Robinson, a patrol captain within the Sheriff's Office has over two decades of experience in law enforcement specific to the Helena area. He says the rise in responding to calls often involving traumatic incidents have been putting additional stress on him and his fellow officers, a statement Don McCarthy, a Seargent at the Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s Office agrees with.

“We are human and we get criticism from both sides all day long," McCarthy said. "So just remembering that when we have an interaction. We do take this stuff home with us, we try not to but we do."

For the community, there is Crisis Intervention Team Training (CIT) which is a 40-hour class every officer within the Sheriff’s office is required to have.

It teaches law enforcement how to de-escalate situations and better connect with someone when they are struggling with a mental health crisis according to Greg Holmund, a Sergeant and teacher of CIT explained.

“So how we approach that, that tone in our voice, simple thing like hand gestures like what yo do with your hands that isn’t intimidating or threatening and one of the key factors is active reflective listening...” Holmlund said.

But when it comes to internal matters, that's a harder issue to address, having to break the stigma within the industry.

“You box it up and you put it away and as your career goes on you box it up, put it away..." Holmlund said. "Sooner or later someone's cup is going to run over.”

Recently they started implementing debriefs for Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), where clinicians are brought in to unpack crisis calls officers are dispatched to.

“The point of that is to release those thoughts and talk about what happened in a safe environment," McCarthy said. "We do that by there is no rank in the room... The only people allowed to do them is the team members and the people who were on scene or first responders who were there.”

It’s normal for them to host 60 debriefs a quarter – that's 240 traumatic calls a year that law enforcement says they have to compartmentalize.

But by addressing the trauma involved in these calls they say it makes them stronger in the longer run; being able to continue to do their best to be there for others in the community who may need some encouragement this time of year.

“Some of us have lost marriages over it (trauma), some of us have been to counselors, some of us have to deal with taking medication every day just to deal with some of the things that we have seen," Robinson said. "So we are trying to get that out there that you’re human and you don’t have to be Superman.”

If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, please reach out. Call 988 to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911 if a person is in immediate danger.