Working with Mental Health Professionals

by Officer Jim Pendergast – Lodi Police Department

Oct. 10, 2010, was World Mental Health Day. This day is recognized to raise public awareness about mental health issues. It’s a time for open discussion regarding investments in prevention and treatment methods along with the various mental health disorders.

I read in an article that there is a real need to deal with mental health problems of people with chronic physical illnesses and physical care of mental health consumers through a continued and integrated care.

As a Lodi police officer and the liaison between San Joaquin County Mental Health and the Lodi Police Department, I understand firsthand the issues that police officers experience on a daily basis with people suffering from a mental health.

Since working at the Lodi Police Department, I have developed a partnership with many employees of the San Joaquin County Mental Health Crisis Unit. Our department has gained assistance from them with numerous trainings, resources, etc. The second part of this column will focus on the collaboration between the Lodi Police Department and San Joaquin County Mental Health, and some of the resources available to assist us.

For this column I would like to talk about Wendy Williams, who is a San Joaquin County Mental Health crisis clinician and a liaison between our two departments.

Mrs. Williams’ background was always in the social services sector. From working in juvenile probation to working with the developmentally disabled population, it wasn’t until approximately five years ago that she was hired at the San Joaquin County Mental Health Department as a crisis worker.

Mrs. Williams said she chose to become a crisis clinician because, “My family suffered with mental illness as I was growing up and I saw firsthand the challenges we had to deal with as a family.”

She said that back in the 1970s, law enforcement did not have the adequate training and resources that we have today. She mentioned that because of that lack of training and resources back then, she saw numerous situations where the police would be called for assistance with a family member in crisis. The incident often escalated into an out-of-control situation.

She was able to understand during those tough times that the officers just did not have the training and experience to deal with those often volatile and confusing mental health incidents. It was because of those often-daily experiences that she became passionate and wanted to explore the social service world.

When I asked Mrs. Williams what she felt was one of the most difficult aspects of working in the mental health field, she replied, “On many occasions, family members of a mentally ill person are also suffering (from) not knowing how to deal with a family member who needs help, and (are) confused on how to seek advice and assistance through resources in managing the illness.”

She mentioned many family members never follow through with getting help; thus the suffering continues for the mentally ill person and their families.

Mrs. Williams told me that there are more positives to the job than negatives, and was quick to mention one of most gratifying things she often sees is when a mentally ill client is able to take their prescribed medications as directed, make it to group and individual counseling appointments, and, in her words, “start a journey to growth and recovery. It is so rewarding.”

As I continued talking with Mrs. Williams, we spoke at length about the strong partnership between the Lodi Police Department and San Joaquin County Mental Health.

In the future, we would both like to share with you some of the training provided to the Lodi Police Department’s officers and also the resources provided to our officers that make serving our mentally ill population just a little bit easier.


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