Almost 46,000 people died by suicide in the United States in 2020, while millions more seriously thought about suicide, made a plan, or attempted to take their own life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Deputies with the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Officers often interact with citizens experiencing a mental health crisis, some of who are despondent and actively trying to hurt themselves. While police have basic mental health training, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office now has additional resources to assist those in crisis.
In September 2019, the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Office hired Alexis Higdon, Community Mental Health Liaison. Before joining the agency, she worked at the Center for Children, a private non-profit organization in Southern Maryland as a psychiatric rehabilitation program supervisor and therapist.
Higdon herself grew up in a First Responder family. “I have always been very passionate about First Responders and mental health, and Law Enforcement is a very underserved population” in obtaining mental health services, she said.
The Sheriff’s Office recently expanded the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), utilizing the Mental Health Liaison. When an officer responds to a call for a person having a mental health crisis, Higdon can be dispatched to the scene to provide for a more thorough mental health assessment.
People experiencing a mental health crisis “need a clinical assessment,” she said, which she can provide on scene.
If it is determined that the person needs to go to the emergency room for mental health treatment, Higdon also assists in that process.
In addition, her duties include following up on each and every mental health-related call to the Sheriff’s Office to ensure that the families who need resources have them made available. “It’s very busy. That takes up the majority of my day,” she said.
Higdon also provides peer support programs for law enforcement officers, who frequently navigate high-stress situations, to make sure they have the resources they might need. Mental health debriefings are offered to deputies following particularly heinous and disturbing crimes.
“We are very progressive for mental health in our community,” she said.
“Our deputies interact with those struggling with mental illness, addiction issues, and other related complications on a daily basis in St. Mary’s County,” Sheriff Tim Cameron said. “Our goal is to direct those in need with the professional services available, when possible, rather than just make an arrest. These are our friends, family members, and neighbors who find themselves in difficulty.” “I am very pleased that our agency’s Community Health Liaison is readily available to assist in mental health issues for both those in the community and those within our own ranks,” Capt. Steve Hall, Commander of the Special Operations Division, said. “The Crisis Intervention Team is making a positive difference in our community.”
Deputies and commanders with the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Office began participation in Critical Incident Team (CIT) training in 2010. CIT training is a 40-hour program that includes a multi-disciplinary comprehensive approach to responding to those suffering from a mental health crisis, to de-escalate the situation.
There are now 109 deputies and corrections officers who have completed CIT training within the agency, including 47 deputies in the Patrol Division, 17 in the Special Operations Division, nine in the Criminal Investigations Division, six in the Narcotics Division, and 30 corrections officers in the Corrections Division.
The Sheriff’s Office is looking to expand to a Co-Responder model soon in collaboration with the St. Mary’s County Health Department, which would include a CIT-trained deputy, a mental health professional, and medical staff responding to calls for mental health.
For those experiencing a suicidal crisis, call 988 or visit https://988lifeline.org/