Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Police training to handle people off medication, in unstable state

Mental illness spurs lessons

Police training to handle people off medication, in unstable state

By Wendy Harris
Post-Crescent staff writer

Outagamie County sheriff’s deputy Wang Lee “responded” to a noise complaint at an apartment Friday to discover a 20-something man and his female friend in party mode.

The man was intoxicated, but he also was talking a mile a minute, and at first was unusually gregarious as he invited Lee and another officer to join the party.

As Lee tried to talk the man into turning down the loud music, he became belligerent. But Lee played it cool, took his time and discovered the man’s bottle of Depakote, a prescription drug commonly used to treat bipolar disorder. The man had gone off his medication and was in the midst of a manic phase.

“It’s a different way of thinking,” Lee said later. “We’ve been trained to notice and identify people in crisis and know the symptoms and signs.”

Friday’s incident wasn’t real, but rather a role-playing scenario that culminated a week of training for law enforcement personnel. The goal was to teach them how to identify mental illness during calls and how to diffuse situations.

“It’s better to practice with an actor and process the mistakes you make rather than make them in real life,” said Karen Aspenson, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-Fox Valley.

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, organized by the local NAMI office with support from the Appleton Police Department, is the only training of its kind so far in the state.



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