Selectmen Review Wilton’s Mental Health Resources and Crisis Response by Police, Social Services

image: Pixabay

Mental health was a key topic of discussion at the Nov. 21 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting, which offered a glimpse into crisis intervention activities by Wilton police as well as valuable information for residents who might not know where to look for support if they need it.

Wilton Police Dept. Captain Rob Cipolla and Social Services Director Sarah Heath attended the meeting to speak about the municipal crisis response and available mental health resources.

For the purposes of the meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice drew a distinction between the municipal response (the focus of the meeting) and that of the school district.

“Although both [Wilton Police and Social Services] departments collaborate with the Board of Education staff, they aren’t going to be talking about the Board of Education and what those employees do.”

[Editor’s note: For more on the district’s handling of mental health issues, Vanderslice recommended viewing the Nov. 17 BOE meeting, which included a presentation by Kim Zemo, Wilton’s safe school climate coordinator, who provided an update on the district’s student wellness efforts. Zemo’s presentation begins at the 1:23:25 time stamp on the meeting video. GOOD Morning Wilton will have more on this next week.]

Wilton Police — Well Versed and Well Prepared

“The goal of this evening is to come out with an understanding of how our departments respond to mental health crises and how, based on our training and experiences, we are well versed and prepared for handling these situations,” Cipolla said.

He began the presentation with an overview of “calls for service” the department receives. Calls are considered ‘Crisis Intervention’ when the person involved:

  • is known to have mental illness and experiencing a crisis
  • is displaying behavior indicative of mental illness
  • attempted or threatened suicide
  • is a gravely disabled individual
  • may be experiencing emotional trauma

Cipolla shared some data suggesting the rate of calls was trending higher during the second and third quarter of 2022 than in 2021, though conclusions from the data are hard to reach given the way the calls are counted (i.e., not discrete cases) and how the calls may be categorized (e.g., a domestic violence call with mental health issues present could be classified as domestic violence rather than mental health-related).

Cipolla went on to explain how the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) attempts to respond effectively to such calls. He emphasized the importance of having 34 CIT trained Wilton officers who have been certified since 2016.

“The goal was on every shift we’d at least have one or two officers that received this training, so if we did have this type of call come in, we’d make sure one of these officers was on the scene, because they have the tools.”

“Ultimately, the goal of the Crisis Intervention Team is to facilitate safe resolutions to crisis situations for all the parties involved: the officers, community, and certainly the person in crisis,” Cipolla said.

Another goal, added Cipolla, was “being that bridge to referral services that may be helpful to that individual.”

Unfortunately, Cippola says, mental health situations an officer might be responding to “can be rather volatile.”

He described situations involving the Police Emergency Examination Request (PEER). Under Connecticut general statutes, police officers with reasonable cause to believe a person has a psychiatric condition and is a danger to themselves or others, and in need of immediate care and treatment, may take that person into custody in order to obtain that treatment.

Cipolla told the selectmen Wilton officers utilized the PEER tool on 57 occasions in 2021, and 51 occasions so far in 2022.

Social Services Department

Social Services Director Sarah Heath noted a key difference between the WPD and Social Services when it comes to mental health response.

“We are not connected to 911. We are a Monday-through-Friday Town department,” Heath said. “We do remind people to call 911 in an emergency. We are not 24/7.”

In addition to 911, Heath cited several numbers residents may call for mental health needs:

  • 211: a state line with crisis intervention and mental health resources
  • 988: a new, nationwide phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that can be called or texted by those considering suicide or facing other mental health issues (chat is also available online at 988lifeline.org with licensed crisis counselors)
  • Kids in Crisis: a Greenwich, CT-based nonprofit that provides crisis prevention and intervention services for children through its crisis helpline (203.661.1911), in-person counseling, and school-based and community-based programs and services

Heath included calling Wilton Social Services, which includes Wilton Youth Services, on that list.

While Heath indicated that the department’s three licensed professionals are qualified to provide counseling services, she clarified that most of the counseling provided by the department is “in-moment counseling,” often in crisis situations, only until referral to outside providers can be arranged.

She emphasized that financial assistance is provided by the department for counseling, support groups, and clinical-based programming for those with financial needs.

“We can help not only connect them [to services], but we can help pay,” Heath said.

“We do have money in the budget so that we can help pay, when appropriate,” Heath continued. “For all ages, not just youth, we can provide the same type of referrals.”

Heath concluded her presentation by highlighting a long list she had compiled of local agencies, nonprofits and other mental health support organizations, with summary descriptions about each one.

She said the department works hard to help families find the right match.

“When someone calls us with a specific counseling need, we don’t give them a list like this,” Heath said. “We work with them so they know what is available, and where, and it depends on the needs. It depends on the family, their health insurance…” and other pertinent factors.

“I do encourage [residents] to contact Social Services so we can help you personalize, because it is really confusing looking at this list and not knowing what to access,” she said.

Heath also spoke of the strong communication between the Social Services Department and the school district, as well as with Wilton Youth Council, and other community supports such as the YMCA, the Wilton Library, and church groups.

The full presentation by Cipolla and Heath can be seen in the Zoom video recording (starting at the 03:49 mark). The presentation document, which includes an extensive local resource list, is also posted on the Town website.

LEAVE A REPLY

GMW requires all commenters to use full, real, verifiable names and emails. Comments with pseudonyms, no last names, initials only, etc. will not be approved. Comment approval may take up to 24 hours. Email addresses will not be published.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here