The Williamsburg Health Foundation recognized the Colonial Area Crisis Intervention Team for its mental health advocacy on Thursday.
The team comprises all law enforcement agencies from Williamsburg, James City County, York County and Poquoson, alongside mental health professionals from Eastern State Hospital, Riverside Doctors’ Hospital and others.
“Together, members of our area’s crisis intervention team have changed the way in which someone experiencing a mental health crisis is encountered, understood, and treated,” said Jeanne Zeidler, president and CEO of the Williamsburg Health Foundation, in a news release.
Last year, the foundation awarded the College of William and Mary’s Division of Student Affairs for its holistic approach to health and wellness. The college is also part of the group recognized this year.
This year’s award encourages efforts to better handle mental illness, an issue often overlooked or misunderstood, which can lead to jail time or worse. Colonial Behavioral Health, another part of the team, offers training for local law enforcement focusing on how officers work with individuals experiencing such a crisis.
“We tend to be very understanding of diabetes. We tend to be very understanding of cancer, very understanding of many chronic conditions that are out there,” said David Coe, executive director of Colonial Behavioral Health. “But serious mental illness, it has become stigmatized over time. We think it’s different. We have to remember, the brain is an organ of the body.”
In the three years since its inception, Riverside’s crisis intervention team has handled 1,800 cases with the goal of offering treatment rather than legal consequences. Dr. Kristen Hudacek of Eastern State Hospital praised such efforts in the midst of a growing problem nationwide.
“As psychiatric institutions have reduced their bed capacity, persons with mental illness have ended up in jail,” she said. “Jails have become the de facto mental health system.”
Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.