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Mental Health Summit exposes greatest need and solutions to statewide crisis care

Officials met for the third annual Mental Health Summit in Seattle on Oct. 29, 2019. (KOMO News)
Officials met for the third annual Mental Health Summit in Seattle on Oct. 29, 2019. (KOMO News)
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SEATTLE – In late October, roughly 600 of the leading minds in mental health came together to share progressive solutions to improving care for those in crisis across Washington state.

“Mental health is really something that involves every one of us and that’s what we’re seeing at this summit,” said Dr. Jurgen Unutzer, Chair of the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Lawmakers, law enforcement, health officials, parents and students were among those at the 3rd Annual Washington Mental Health Summit on the campus of the University of Washington.

There were 22 presentations that addressed improvements to perinatal health care, mental health in schools, in the workforce, among law enforcement, and in technology.

“We’ve recognized that mental health is more than what you get in a psychiatrist’s or a psychologist’s office, mental health is starting at having healthy babies, having healthy children in school, making sure teachers have good mental health, so that they can do the important work they do,” said Unutzer.

Among the presentations was one by the Redmond Police Department calling on more mental health professionals (MHP) responding with armed officers to distress calls.

Susie Kroll, one of the few MHPs in King County, is currently supported through grant-funding in the Redmond Police Department. She stressed there needs to be more funds allocated to make MHPs a concrete line item in agency budgets.

Where law enforcement’s first priority when responding to a distress call may be public safety, Kroll says MHP’s are focused on ensuring someone suffering from a crisis is connected to services.

“That still allows law enforcement to do the work they need to do, but that we step in and intercede at the moment of crisis in order to prevent that crisis from happening again,” Kroll said during her presentation.

Another new initiative presented at the Summit was OneCall – a pilot program that rolled out in King County in October.

With One Call, first responders a part of Seattle Police and Seattle Fire/EMS can now call a phone number to connect those in distress with overnight care, rather than having to take that person to the ER or to a jail cell.

The program is funded through the city of Seattle and operated by Crisis Connection.

Those in the crowd also heard presentations about increased availability of telepsychiatry or therapy using videoconferencing.

For a full list of presentations, click here.

In the crowd were a handful of lawmakers including King County Executive Dow Constantine, Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43rd District), and Rep. Tina Orwall (D- 33rd District).

Orwall said she’s co-sponsoring a comprehensive bill on suicide prevention in the upcoming legislative session.

“It’s an epidemic. We’re all touched by mental health and we’ve often been touched by suicide, and it almost needs to be like CPR where we’re all learning the signs and symptoms of what to do. And so when we look at the K-12 system, we need more mental health professionals in our schools,” Rep. Orwall said.

Orwall said her bill calls for improved training to educators, students, and families. It also proposes adding the crisis response number on all student ID cards.

“We’re going into a short session, which means we don’t have much time and the resources are limited. I think this needs to be one of the top priorities of what we do this session.”

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The 2020 legislative session starts on January 13.

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