Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist
On an overnight ride-along with a Fishers police officer, Mayor Scott Fadness threw out a question: “What are the calls that cause you the most concern?”
He thought the officer would respond with reports of domestic violence or armed robberies. Instead, the officer turned to Fadness and said, “It’s the IDs.”
The acronym stands for “immediate detention,” when the condition of someone’s mental health is so dire that they’re taken into protective custody for a medical evaluation.
“How often could that possibly happen,” Fadness asked.
“Once a shift,” the officer replied.
The conversation ignited the mayor’s interest in finding out more about mental health issues facing the Central Indiana community. The statistics were telling – Fishers has had three murders in 20 years. But in 2016, 11 residents killed themselves and another 47 made serious attempts at taking their own lives.
Fadness took action and launched a mental health taskforce. His efforts add to a growing list of mayors across the nation addressing mental health issues in their communities. Along with Fishers, Evansville and Kokomo have recently conducted suicide prevention training sessions for community members.
Fadness’ goal was to identify a systemic and substantive response.
“It had to be truly a fundamental shift in public policy to try to deal with this issue,” said Fadness who in 2015 used his State of the City address, his highest-profile speech of the year, to raise awareness of the long-held stigmas of mental health, which he said force sufferers into a “quiet despair.”
Among its findings, the task force recommended more training for school, youth sports and public safety officials in crisis intervention and called on the city to enhance its partnerships with behavioral health specialists. As a next step, the city is concentrating on how to prevent residents from getting to the point of a mental health crisis.
“All of us are starting to wake up to the fact we need to be more comprehensive in our approach of leading our communities and that means going beyond the traditional roles that we have become accustomed to,” Fadness said.
Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said the decision to offer suicide prevention training at a series of public events in the city began with a simple question: “What can we do?” Evansville and Kokomo are using a method called QPR, which raises awareness of the warning signs of suicide and how to refer someone to help.
Their focus on mental health comes at a critical time.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Hoosiers aged 15-24, ahead of homicide, heart disease and cancer, according to a 2017 report from the Indiana Youth Institute.
- The institute’s data also showed 4 percent of Hoosier adults had serious thoughts of suicide, and nearly 5 percent had a serious mental illness. Compounding the issue: Less than half of adults with any mental illness received treatment.
The hope by increasing training, Winnecke said, is to give those contemplating suicide or their family members, coworkers or friends the tools to ask about their situation.
“It is very eye opening to hear it in a context of someone’s dire mental straits that they are in,” Winnecke said. “I had a first cousin who killed himself about six or seven years ago now. I remember what a shock that was to everyone in our family. As mayor, you see all kinds of people who are touched by this. If talking is the least we do, hopefully it will help one family.”
Evansville in partnership with Vanderburgh County also began a mental health commission to review its jail population. The jail can become a “default place” to put people with mental health issues, and the group is exploring resources to offer on a broad scale, Winnecke said.
“People look to mayors for all kinds of solutions and assistance, and it’s more than just repaving streets and making sure that the trash is picked up and the snow is cleared from the streets – people want safe, vibrant communities,” Winnecke said, “and that’s more than the big, sexy, fun projects we all like to brag about, it’s getting into weighty issues.”
Suicide prevention is a multi-disciplinary approach, with local governments playing a role, said David Berman with Mental Health America of Indiana.
“We need governmental policies in place that reinforce best practices or evidence-based trends. This societal framework trickles down and is implemented in local communities, and then trickles down into school systems, or with first responders and health care providers, and then trickles down and is reinforced at home by parents, or by friends, family members and coworkers,” Berman said.
Responses to mental health issues should be tailored to the individual needs of communities to have the maximum impact, said Dennis Watson, a professor at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“Local governments need to do what they can to raise awareness of problems, how they play out in their unique context, and develop or adapt responses to them in collaboration with their citizens and mental health experts, as well as any relevant county, state or federal entities,” Watson said.
Notably, in New York City, the city launched ThriveNYC, an effort to respond to the community’s needs by training more residents in mental health first aid, conducting early intervention and closing treatment gaps in mental illness and addiction.
For decades, society has stigmatized mental health issues, so raising awareness is important, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said.
“This was another way to bring awareness,” Goodnight said, “and get people to recognize signs of people who unfortunately are thinking about suicide.”
Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline provides 24/7, free and confidential support. For more information: suicidepreventionlifeline.org.