Mental illness is a disease that affects entire communities, including Morristown and Hamblen County. Finding resources and solutions for those affected require a community-wide approach. In October the Morristown Police Department hosted a weeklong Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training for first responders.
The goal of the Crisis Intervention Team program is to bring together mental health professionals, first responders, community resource organization members and other stakeholders to help examine local resources, determine needs, and agree on strategies to provide appropriate services for people with mental illness. An effective CIT program works to divert individuals experiencing a mental health crisis away from the criminal justice system towards appropriate mental health services. This program also focuses on organizing effective training for law enforcement personnel as they are often the first responders when someone suffers a psychiatric crisis.

Course goals for each participant in this forty-hour training program included improvement of first-responder knowledge, attitudes, and stigma regarding individuals with mental health conditions combined with de-escalation strategies for safe and effective response. The course informed officers of recognizable signs and symptoms of psychiatric disorders and the psychotropic medications used to treat them as well as provided a “first-hand” experience of these symptoms through a reality-based exercise. The legal and liability risks associated with response to suicidal persons calls was discussed and the duty of care doctrine examined to provide officers with sound legal knowledge that serves as a foundation for law enforcement actions. Best practice communication skills were developed and practiced in multiple role-playing exercises to help participants identify the stages of crisis escalation and how to effectively respond to these individuals. Participants toured local, available resources to learn about available support systems for those in crisis in order to help transform the outcome of law enforcement response and produce a sustainable, community-wide approach to those we encounter suffering from mental illness.

There were 15 first responders representing the Morristown Police Department, Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office, Morristown Fire Department, Morristown-Hamblen Emergency Medical Services Walters State Community College Campus Police and the Morristown-Hamblen Emergency Communications District.