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Law enforcement agencies get briefing on mental health issues

Sun Advocate reporter

Local law enforcement agencies and members of the community were on hand for a luncheon to raise awareness about mental illness and it's impact on families and in the community.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) sponsored the luncheon which brought out various members of local law enforcement agencies and members of the community who listened to presentations on the importance of training law enforcement officers on the Crisis Information Team, or CIT. Representatives from NAMI talked about the 40-hour course, which costs $75 per officer, that helps local police agencies and helps prepare officers in the event they encounter a person with a mental illness needing assistance.

"It takes a community to help deal with mental illness," said Sherri Wittwer, executive director with NAMI Utah.

Only about 11 percent of officers statewide in Utah are trained, with most of them being located on the Wasatch Front, according to NAMI. One of the goals for NAMI is to have officers in each law enforcement agency in the state who have participated in the CIT training and can be designated as the CIT officers for their agency.

About one in four adults suffers from an undiagnosed mental illness and one out of every four families in the United States is affected in some form or another by mental illness, according to NAMI. In Utah alone, 43,000 people are treated each year because of mental illnesses.

Some of the benefits of CIT training include increasing officers' awareness of mental health, instructing them to use techniques utilized when encountering a person with a mental illness, broaden officers' knowledge of what resources are available in the community and assist officers with solutions to help those in the community with mental illnesses, Wittwer said.

"Law officers have an exceptionally hard job as it is and the tools with CIT training can help them out," Wittwer said. "CIT is more than just training. There needs to be a lot of involvement within the community to make this successful."

NAMI has been expanding its reach across the state in getting counties to get their law enforcement agencies involved in CIT training. The Southeastern part of the state, specifically Carbon County, has been targeted as the next area NAMI is focusing on bringing training to the local community.

In order to bring a CIT academy to Carbon County for training law enforcement there must be enough involvement within the community. Nonetheless, those involved with the local NAMI group believe CIT training is in Carbon County's near future.

"We're hoping to bring CIT training here to Carbon County," said Stella Smith, president of NAMI Castle Country. "This shows that there are people in the state that are not just focused on the Wasatch Front. I am really excited to see NAMI grow in our area and hopefully we will see CIT training happening soon in Carbon County."

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