We are a group of mental health professionals writing in support of the establishment of a Mobile Mental Health Unit in Minneapolis.

We are therapists, social workers, members of mental health teams, physicians and community psychologists who practice in clinics, private practice, community service and emergency departments in the Twin Cities area.

With the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) demoralized and short-staffed after the events of this summer, we believe this is an opportune time to reorganize the way emergency calls are handled, in order to remove some of the burden from the police while creating an emergency response system that better serves our citizens.

The new Safety for All budget proposal (“Plan to cut police budget spurned,” front page, Dec. 1) acknowledges that many police calls can be handled in a more efficient manner. It includes, for example, financing for a separate unit to take property damage reports. It also proposes directing mental health and welfare emergency calls to a Mobile Mental Health Unit modeled after those that have been successful in Eugene, Ore., Denver, Colo., and other cities.

Armed and uniformed response is not necessary for most mental health calls, and can even escalate the problem. The police are not trained in — and often do not have time for — the slow work of identifying the issues, de-escalating, assessing and ultimately providing support for people who are having a mental health crisis. Mental health professionals are trained to talk to people in crisis, de-escalate situations, assess the cause of a problem and decide the best way to meet a person’s ongoing mental health needs and do so on a daily basis.

Recent surveys done by the city of Minneapolis 911/MPD Workgroup show that people who need help are often reluctant to call the police because of fear and lack of trust. We believe that a Mobile Mental Health Response team that is separate from the police would be more acceptable, less intrusive and less likely to result in a criminal record or escalate to violence. Plus, it would free the police to do the work they actually are trained to do.

Putting mental and behavioral health professionals in charge of these crises would benefit everyone.

Mental health workers are also trained to triage calls to gauge an appropriate level of response. One of the first things we learn is to determine which people might be a danger to themselves or others. We do not feel that police will be needed on most mental health calls to secure the scene in advance or to co-respond with mental health workers to provide backup.

We recognize that what we are suggesting will require a change in the way emergency calls are handled, and so we also support the addition of professionals trained in mental health triage to 911 staff.

We understand that many people think this work would be prohibitively dangerous and that no one would be willing to go on mental health calls without armed backup. However, upon hearing that a Mobile Mental Health Unit was under consideration in Minneapolis, a 67-year-old female psychologist who has been practicing in south Minneapolis for decades said, “Of course I would go. In a minute. These are my people, no different from the people I live and work with all the time. Sign me up!”

This is the work we are trained, qualified and prepared to do to serve our community.

The stigma that is unfairly attached to mental illness carries an aura of danger. People are often afraid of others who are different, acting in unexpected ways or who seem out of control. This attitude is born from unfounded fear of the unknown and an exaggerated sense of risk.

People with mental illness in crisis might be angry or confused. They may not be entirely connected to reality, or be able to respond sensibly. But they are ordinary people. They are our friends, our neighbors, our families and sometimes ourselves. They are frightened and hurting and in need of help.

Mental illness is not a crime, and we do no service to people in mental health crises to treat them as if they are criminals. People in crisis deserve to be treated with understanding and respect.

We believe that a Mobile Mental Health Unit would be the best way to do this. We strongly encourage our City Council members to include such a unit in the 2021 budget.

 

Alissa Kaasa is therapist and partner at Poplar Grove Counseling. Kyle Davis is therapist, Ramsey County Assertive Community Treatment. Daniel Wolpert is executive director, Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing. This article is also submitted on behalf of the following mental health professionals: Lisa Freitag, Barbara Ann Jensen, Luci Russell, Lynn Welles, Cassie Sawyer, Rachel Zaidman, Patrick Parker, Sarah Lentz and Amber Phelps.