Members of the mental health community are working to educate the public about recognizing mental illness. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says Erie County and its partner’s kicked-off Mental Health Awareness Month Tuesday.
"Mental Health awareness and suicide prevention – these are public health concerns that people really need to pay attention to,” remarked Michael Ranney, Erie County Mental Health Commissioner.
Ranney said no one should be ashamed about mental health conditions, but sadly only 40-percent of individuals seek treatment.
“If you think you or a loved are struggling with a mental health condition, you can speak to your primary care provider and that might be a good place to start,” Ranney explained.
From prevention to intervention services programs, Crisis Services works to reach those in need of assistance. They’re always staffed to provide 24-7 assistance.
Executive Director Jessica Pirro said Crisis Services is also working directly with many local law enforcement agencies, training officers in responding to mental health emergencies with the Crisis Intervention Team program.
“The approach to take – this is not the same as responding to a criminal call. There’s a need to step back and have a little more empathy in how you are providing that and this training provides extensive support in education around that,” described Pirro.
“When you interact with people and you are showing the empathy – it goes a long way,” said NFTA Officer Dave Zarbo. Zarbo works closely with Crisis Services in the training program.
“A lot of people – they need community outreach such as services Crisis Services bring instead of jail – jail isn’t the answer for a lot people, sometimes it is, unfortunately, but a lot of times we try to divert it if we can,” Zarbo noted.
So far 516-members of law enforcement have been trained.
“From patrol officers, to 9-11 dispatch to our sheriff deputies in the holding center as well as peace officers at some of the campuses as well as our local SPCA,” Pirro said.
Crisis Services also oversees two other projects, the Police Mental Health Coordination Project - where discussion are held to improve response in community for those with mental illness and the Rape Advisory Committee.
In kicking off Mental Health Awareness Month, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said citizens should know there is always help to assist them with mental health needs.
“That this affects many more families then people realize. Almost every family has been touched in some ways by issues associated with mental health illnesses and I think people have learned that in last couple of years especially with the issues related to addiction and in Erie County, we are proud to work with our partners to create a better, healthier community for all,” Poloncarz stated.
15-organizations created the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition, working together to break the stigma associated with mental health issues. The campaign "Let's Talk Stigma" encourages people to share their stories and join the conversation about mental health.