County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel compares meeting to 'drinking out of a fire hose'

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FARMINGTON — Local detention center representatives, officials at the District Attorney’s Office and mental health professionals say there is a revolving door of people with mental illness moving in and out of the judicial system.

Now, a local mental health task force is working to reduce the problem.

San Juan County Commissioners Margaret McDaniel, Jim Crowley and John Beckstead attended the task force's monthly meeting today in Farmington.

One option discussed was the possible development of a memorandum of understanding between the county government and the district court to allow a judge to order a person with mental illness who has stopped treatment to receive outpatient treatment if that person could be a threat to himself or herself or other people.

Beckstead encouraged the members of the task force to collect statistics and data to present to the county. The county officials also encouraged the task force to collect numbers from Bernalillo County, which currently works with its district court system to get people treatment.

Task force discusses community needs

“This meeting was like drinking out of a fire hose,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel said the county and the mental health task force need to find ways to fulfill the unmet needs in the community. Those needs include preventative care for adolescents and early intervention.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 50 percent of chronic mental illness cases develop before a child is 14 years old, and 75 percent of those mental illness cases develop before the person is 24 years old.

One in five children between 13 and 18 years old have or will develop a mental illness, according to NAMI. It takes an average of eight to 10 years after the symptoms appear before a person receives treatment.

According to NAMI, 70 percent of children in detention centers have a mental illness.

In an effort to provide early intervention and identify young people who are at risk, the task force is looking at ways to increase mental health support services in schools.

The effort comes after the task force began to see success from its current focus — providing crisis intervention training for law enforcement and other officials.

Law enforcement training, outreach reduces use of force

San Juan County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Al Jamison said that effort has been paying off.

He estimated outreach and training have helped law enforcement officials decrease the number of violent encounters with people who have mental illness by about 40 percent in the last two years.

He said the Sheriff’s Office has developed a database that is accessible by all local law enforcement agencies. The database provides information about individuals in the community who have mental illness, including a crisis plan.

Jamison said law enforcement officers are also checking on people with mental illness while they are not in crisis so that the people can know the officers before they get in a crisis situation.

The database can only be accessed by law enforcement officials, and Jamison said it has been well received by the community.

"We've had a lot of people come to us and put themselves in the database," he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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