Rising numbers of suicides and emergency room visits due to mental health crises are prompting leaders in the north metro to join forces to address the problems.

The North Metro Mental Health Roundtable held its first meeting in February, on the hope that greater collaboration among medical providers, law enforcement, social service agencies, homeless shelters and others can reverse some troubling trends.

“We don’t want to be here five years from now and have it be an even worse situation,” said Rhonda Sivarajah, a co-chair of the committee and an Anoka County commissioner. “You think about the individual lives that are impacted on a daily basis.”

The area has seen an increase in police calls to deal with people in mental health crises, according to statistics presented at the first meeting, and a 20 percent increase in the last five years in such patients coming to the Mercy Hospital emergency room in Coon Rapids.

Members of the group bemoaned a lack of mental health crisis services, and a need for prevention programs that avert crises in the first place, Sivarajah said.

“It was important to bring everybody together because we know there is some great opportunity … to really focus on preventing many of the crisis situations that people find themselves in,” she said.

The suicide rate in Anoka County nearly doubled, from 8.2 people per 100,000 in 1999 to 16.0 in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wonder database. That rate declined to 13.7 in 2017, but public health officials remain concerned by the broader trend.

The North Metro collaborative is modeled after a similar effort started 10 years ago in the East Metro by HealthPartners and other mental health and social service providers.

While challenges with mental health care remain in that region — including similar increases over the past decade in the suicide rate — the East Metro Roundtable has reported positive results.

A drug assistance program was formed in 2008 to improve medication access and adherence to people with severe mental illnesses. People were 37 percent less likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric needs after receiving medication through the program, and 16 percent less likely to be in jail, an East Metro report showed.

The East Metro group also reported an increase in mental health treatment beds in St. Paul hospitals, the opening of an adult mental health urgent care clinic, and a streamlined civil commitment process that reduced treatment delays.

“That does give us, I think, some encouragement,” Sivarajah said of the East Metro success stories. “We know that progress can be made.”