New Iowa State Police Position Helps People with Mental Illness

AMES, Iowa  --  In the next few weeks, the Iowa State Police Department will add a new mental health advocate position. It's something the Ames Police Department has had for nearly four years.

Three years ago, the Ames Police Department had 1,400 mental health related calls, a year ago there were 1,600 and last year they had 2,000 mental health calls. This demonstrates the growing need for extra support for individuals with a wide variety of mental illnesses.

“Severe anxiety, depression, psychosis, the onset of schizophrenia bipolar disorder so isolation, hearing voices, seeing things that are not there, feeling incredibly frightened,” Ames Police Department Mental Health Advocate Julie Saxton said.

While all officers have mental health and crisis training, they are not always equipped to follow up on each and every call and individual. The Mental Health Advocate is able to follow up with each individual and act as a liaison between the police department and mental health services.

The Mental Health Advocate gives information like facts of an incident, symptoms, behaviors or substance abuse to providers, family members, social workers, hospitals and attorneys.

“It’s very difficult for them to want to accept that they are mentally ill, they’re scared, and a lot of times they call me just to talk, vent, and I’m there just to build that trusting relationship with them. I will take them to appointments if need be, medication appointments, checking in on them, making sure they are okay, are they seeing their provider and continue to support them through this journey,” Saxton said.

The Ames Police Department gets between 130 and 150 mental health calls a month from individuals between 18 to 25 years old as these are common ages people start to exhibit mental health symptoms and struggle with learning how to deal with them.

“So, you have students that are away from home, they’re away from their support systems, and they are starting to experience these symptoms and they’re scared, they don’t know what’s going on. So, having a mental health advocate there on staff working alongside the police department is going to be a great addition to the university,” Saxton said.

Saxton said most people officers deal with suffering from mental illness are the victims of violent crime, and they are not typically going to be violent towards other people. But there are a percentage of people who do become violent and the mental health advocate’s goal is to be that support system before it gets to that point.

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