UIPD ready to respond to mental health crises

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URBANA, Ill. — The University of Illinois Police Department’s specially trained crisis intervention officers are available 24/7 to assist anyone who might be experiencing mental health emergencies.

UIPD responds to as many as 180 mental health-related calls per year, and the frequency of reported mental health crises on college campuses has been increasing. UIPD’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is specially trained to recognize mental health conditions, use conversation to remove some of the tension from those situations and provide the appropriate resources to the person in need.

“It’s very common among college students to experience different stressors,” said Sgt. Rachael Ahart, the police department’s CIT coordinator. “Being away from home, having all the class schedules, the demands of college coursework, changing friend groups, all of those things. In addition to that, the age range of college students is the age range that a lot of serious mental health issues tend to develop and present themselves.”

Right now, the department has 35 officers trained in crisis intervention – just over half of its staff. The goal is to have all police officers trained in crisis intervention in the near future, said Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Craig Stone.

“This is training that we have recognized as an extremely valuable service to our campus community,” Stone said. “In the coming months, we plan to make a great investment in this program as this training and knowledge is a crucial skill for police officers working in a campus environment.”

CIT training provides public safety personnel with information about how to recognize and respond to common mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, among others. Additionally, CIT officers are knowledgeable about the resources available both on and off campus so they can assist a person in finding longer-term help.

“Sometimes friends will call because they have a friend dealing with some crisis, or maybe a concerned teacher,” Ahart said. “It’s common across campus. It’s not just the students. It’s faculty, staff, community members as well.”

While there are a number of mental health resources available on campus, a mental health crisis may present itself during the late night or early morning hours when those services are more difficult to reach. Additionally, any mental health crisis involving a situation where a person is an immediate safety risk to themselves or someone else requires a 9-1-1 call.

 “The police department works 24/7, so there’s always officers that can come help out,” Ahart said. “A student is not going to get in trouble for calling 9-1-1 for themselves or for others if they’re dealing with some sort of crisis situation. That is a call where they are seeking help, and our officers are trained to come and provide that assistance.”

In an emergency, you should always call 9-1-1. However, there are additional resources that can assist someone who is experiencing mental health challenges: