Crisis calls spike during finals season

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Crisis calls spike during finals season

Students utilize the Alkek Library Jan. 18 to organize and study.

Students utilize the Alkek Library Jan. 18 to organize and study.

Nathalie Cohetero

Students utilize the Alkek Library Jan. 18 to organize and study.

Nathalie Cohetero

Nathalie Cohetero

Students utilize the Alkek Library Jan. 18 to organize and study.

Ally Bolender, Special to The Star

An increase of mental health cases during finals season at Texas State has the Mental Health Unit of the San Marcos Police Department encouraging students to use university and city mental health resources during this time of year.

Officers of the Mental Health Unit, a specialized unit of SMPD, receive an influx in crisis calls during November and December. Officers accredit this spike to finals season for Texas State students.

According to the SMPD 2018 crime blotter, MHU officers responded to 305 suicidal calls in 2018 with 30% of those calls occurring between October and December. Officer Joyce Bender, one of the three officers that make up the team, said finals seasons has a tendency to overwhelm students.

“With finals coming around, (students) get more stressed,” Bender said. “They get in a crisis mode, and they don’t know how to deal with things. Grades are coming in, and they’re afraid to tell their parents. When you have different things piling up, (younger generations) have difficulty trying to cope with everything.”

Crisis calls are defined as 911 calls regarding an individual suffering from a mental health-related emergency and needing assistance. These calls include welfare concerns, suicide and EMS’ requesting assistance in the case of attempted suicide.

According to MHU officers, two of the most common stressors are school and financial instability. Corporal Donald Lee said the need for mental services often outweighs the allotted resources but the program is still expanding and improving.

“There’s a lot more need for mental health than there are services available,” Lee said. “Mental health is being seen as an illness, not a choice, so I think we’re addressing things appropriately. But at the same time, we still have a long way to go.”

Aside from responding to crisis calls, the MHU trains other departments on crisis response and de-escalating techniques. They practice community outreach and education about mental health.

The San Marcos MHU is one of the few police branches dedicated to mental health in Texas and the first police department in Texas to have a registered therapy dog for residents in crisis.

MHU dog

Photo credit: City of San Marcos
SMPD’s Mental Health Unit has Border Collie Sheldon Cooper assist their team on call.

Sheldon Cooper is a border collie mix who assists the MHU on crisis calls to decrease anxiety and stress. Sheldon also assists with community outreach through dog safety and therapy dog presentations. Sheldon is Bender’s personal dog who she donated to the program when it was founded in December 2017.

Grant Sheridan, MHU officer, said mental health services is a newer challenge for law enforcement that are still expanding to other municipals.

“The way I look at it, mental health is still in its infancy in law enforcement,” Sheridan said. “Last we checked, 15% of departments have a dedicated mental health unit.”

The MHU works directly with the Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Center to provide an array of services, including crisis stabilization. The Hill Country MHDD crisis hotline is 877-466-0660, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Texas State Counseling Center offers mental health resources for students, including group therapy and online therapy sessions as waiting periods for therapy sessions can last a few months. The university also provides specialized resources for LGBT students, veterans and victims of sexual assault.

For more information about the SMPD MHU, visit its website. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. For emergencies, call 911.

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