In the past, when a University of Wisconsin-Madison student called emergency services for a mental health crisis, an officer from the University of Wisconsin Police Department would arrive in response.
But in an effort to provide the appropriate support and specialized help necessary for these emergencies, the university has announced that, effective Oct. 4, first responders will be joined by mental health professionals from University Health Services.
This partnership was designed over the course of about a year, with serious input from not only the departments involved but also the UW-Madison BIPOC Student Coalition, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) and the Mental Health Services’ student advisory board.
This venture by UWPD and UHS implements what is known as the “co-responder model.” UHS Mental Health Services Director Sarah Nolan and UWPD Chief Kristen Roman stressed “the uniqueness of this pilot on a college campus” and the benefits this program has shown in the few cities where it is in place, per a Department of Justice publication.
Impacts of the program include a decrease in recidivism, fewer instances of violence and arrests and improved relations between police departments and communities. The co-responder model also connects those struggling with mental illnesses to resources that can help them directly.
ASM Press Director Tyler Katzenberger stated that students in crisis will feel the benefits of this program alongside the responders, as they will “have immediate access to proper mental health support care from UHS,” underscoring that “UWPD officers aren’t forced to multitask as counselors” through this co-responder model.
As of right now, this program will only run two days per week. According to Katzenberger, the hope is “to see the program expanded to late nights and weekends to provide more complete mental health crisis response service, especially since alcohol and drug use are more prevalent during these time periods.”
When a student is in crisis during the program’s operating hours, two trained mental health professionals will be sent along with the UWPD response.
In a joint statement, Nolan and Roman stated that the co-responder model will “allow mental health clinicians to work directly with students and schedule follow-up care directly.”
Nationwide police responses to such crises have faced criticism from those who state that police officers are not sufficiently trained to assess or treat an acute mental health emergency. This program aims to rectify that in Madison by allowing mental health professionals to “evaluate the situation in real time” instead of going off a police assessment, Nolan and Roman said.
Along with this real-time evaluation, the mental health professionals’ responsibilities will include bringing the student experiencing a crisis to the hospital, if necessary. This was made possible by ASM, who provided $3,284 in funding for transportation to the hospital.
ASM Chair Adrian Lampron stated in the release that this funding represented the organization’s commitment to UHS Mental Health Services’ ideas.
According to Nolan and Roman, the departments involved “will continue to evaluate and explore potential opportunities to add layers of service, such as wrapping into the City’s CARES model.”
CARES, which stands for Community Alternative Response Emergency Services, launched on Sept. 1. The program sends a City of Madison Fire Department paramedic and a responder from Journey Mental Health to respond to mental health crises. As of now, CARES only operates from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays; Dane County’s long-term goal is to make this a 24-hour service, seven days a week.
Katzenberger emphasized the importance of mental health services being treated as its own discrete emergency service, as “responding to mental health crises is just as important as responding to fires, crimes and medical emergencies.” This partnership hopes to create just that for students here at UW.
Students and campus community members seeking mental health resources can find them here.