SPECIAL REPORT: How the state is working to prevent suicide

KNWA

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Suicide is a mental health crisis, killing more than 500 people in Arkansas last year. Counties across the state are addressing the issue by opening crisis stabilization units to help people who are at risk of harming themselves or others.

“People end up in jail that have all kinds of mental health issues and people get arrested for things that may be criminal,” said Justice of the Peace for Washington County, Eva Madison. “But there’s an underlying issue of mental health.”

In June, Fayetteville became home to the fourth crisis stabilization unit in the state. As of October, 167 people in distress have checked in, instead of getting booked into jail.

“Essentially we stabilize that crisis and get them reconnected to the community,” said Kristen Mcallister, director of crisis stabilization services for local mental health center, Ozark Guidance. Washington County partnered with the center to operate the 16-bed facility that offers help to people experiencing behavioral health issues

“We’ve seen a lot of individuals come to us because they might be experiencing suicidal ideation or they might be having a substance use crisis,” Mcallister said.

Macallister said people are referred to the unit by law enforcement or community health centers. For up to 72 hours, clients get the help they need, depending on their situation.

“They’re also able to meet with mental health professionals to receive therapeutic interventions,” Mcallister said.

In addition to Fayetteville, there are CSUs in Pulaski, Sebastian, and Craighead counties.

“The idea was that there are so many people that come into our jail system that are in need of mental health assistance,” Madison said. “The jail can’t service them. And if we can’t help them, the problem is just going to get so much worse.”

Washington County was responsible for the start-up funding for the unit, including the building and operation costs, but the state is helping. Act 423 of 2017 allotted $1.6 million to fund each facility annually. One goal is to solve a long-time problem for the county.

“We’re looking at jail overcrowding right now and a $30 million-plus cost to expand it,” Madison said. “So anything we can do to divert people from jail is great.”

Madison said the unit appropriately places people who are not violent or dangerous.

“If we’re able to get them to the CSU and get the treatment they need, maybe they’d get back on track in life and that suicide risk goes away or at least is minimized,” Madison said.

Mcallister said the mental health system can be confusing and daunting, but people have mostly seen positive results.

“We’ve seen some folks come back, but we count that as a good thing,” Mcallister said. “They know the CSU is a safe place for them to receive some care.”

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