Mental Health Stigma Awareness Campaign

May 26, 2016

Through grant funding provided by the PdNHF to the County of El Paso under the Think.Change initiative, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office designed a three-pronged campaign to provide education to jail staff, inmates and family members to help address mental health.

Specifically, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office:

  1. Certified three officers as Mental Health First Aid Instructors, who have, in turn trained 234 detention supervisors and detention officers over the past 17 months in Mental Health First Aid. Training attendees have provided extensive positive feedback and expressed eagerness for additional similar training as a result.

  2. Outfitted staff in the Detention System’s Special Needs Section with light blue colored shirts for quick identification by staff and inmates alike as Special Needs Officers. Officers often referred to as “the Blue Shirts,” assist in facilitating continuity of care, help inmates traverse the criminal justice system and provide inmates with an additional informal means of communication.

  3. Added a Mental Health Crisis Line as an additional source of communications for inmates within the jails. The Crisis Line, answered by the local mental health authority, allows immediate access to a mental health professional for self-reporting of a mental health crisis without encountering the stigma, which can be carried by other cellmates once knowledge of an individual’s special needs are known. The objective is to allow confidential self-reporting, to provide crisis intervention as appropriate, and to provide continuity of care.

In 2015, the Detention System housed approximately 10,400 individuals identified by medical staff as mental health patients. To assist individuals being released from the Detention System with community reentry, a “keeping it together” wallet card providing a listing of community resources was developed. Each individual released into the community receives a card upon exit from the jail. Because of the success of the card, it has been adopted by the Patrol Division whose deputies are providing “keeping it together” resource cards to the public. An additional informational pamphlet for family members of inmates is being developed to provide community members with information on local resources such as “Family2Family” training through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Sheriff Richard D. Wiles, Chair for the Justice Leadership Council of the El Paso Behavioral Health Consortium stated that a current Sheriff’s Office goal is not only to continue providing appropriate mental health services to inmates, but also “to ensure members of the public with needs throughout the mental health spectrum have access to appropriate community services to prevent them from interacting and potentially entering the criminal justice system in the first place.”

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