Local couple provides lifelines for families

Local couple provides lifelines for families

Crisis intervention a tense topic for many

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

When frustrated, lonely people call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline desperate for a glimmer of hope and help for themselves or for loved ones who are ill, the gracious Southern voice of Norma Basford is the voice of reason for many.

Norma, team leader for Jacksonville’s NAMI Helpline, is also a support group advisor and advocate for all things helpful relating to mental health issues.
Norma, and her husband Hayes, actively promote awareness and understanding of mental illnesses throughout the community, in addition to providing lifelines for individuals and families who find themselves helpless and hopeless in dealing with mental illness.

Through the Family to Family classes which the Ortega resident has taught for over eight years at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Norma educates people who have reached the end of their patience and understanding in dealing with loved ones with mental disorders.

Since taking leadership of NAMI Jacksonville in 2010, Hayes has generated new membership and enthusiasm for the organization through countless hours of setting up programs, contacting speakers, organizing volunteers, hosting promotional events, and meeting with board members and civic leaders in the community to promote
understanding and fight the stigma concerning mental illness.

Along with NAMI Board members Hayes toured the facilities at CNS Healthcare Research Center, meeting psychiatrists and case coordinators. Then, in order to better understand the role of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), Hayes spent a night shift with Officer Peter Presti of Zone 4 of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“We covered a lot of miles,” Basford remarked about that night. “It was an eye opening experience although I was bleary eyed by the time we got home. Pete is a great guy. We are lucky to have him involved with CIT and NAMI.”

NAMI is taking a leadership role in offering educational opportunities for the public and those who deal with mental health issues and co-existing substance abuse.
Hayes presided over a NAMI education meeting at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church where Officer Presti explained the policies and procedures dealing with persons with mental disorders during a crisis situation.

The CIT, a nationally recognized model for law enforcement officers, is a partnership with law enforcement, families, medical professionals and individuals with mental illness. CIT training is mandatory for all JSO officers and many are pin-wearing CIT officers, designating them as having volunteered to be a primary responder to calls for police service involving individuals with mental health issues.

Norma and Hayes Basford

Norma and Hayes Basford

If a person finds himself in a crisis situation and needs to call the police, that person can ask specifically that a CIT trained officer respond. Officer Presti has been a CIT officer since 2004, is the CIT training officer and program director, and also serves on the Board of Directors of NAMI Jacksonville.

At the NAMI meeting a father questioned the police policy of handcuffing his son when called in a crisis situation. As he related that the incident exacerbated his son’s distress, he wondered if handcuffing was really necessary and that it seemed to be excessive force.

Officer Presti responded that when officers arrive on a scene they do not know the potential for violence. They explain to the person that they are not under arrest but are being taken to a facility to get help. However, policy dictates that all persons apprehended must be restrained. Giving an example from personal experience, Officer Presti shared that he was injured and out of work over 30 days due to an altercation with a mentally ill person and, as he put it, “It did not end well for either of us.”

The CIT officer related that the use of restraints is necessary for the protection of the officers as well as the person being detained; handcuffing the person can help avoid a situation where more excessive force may be necessary. One goal of CIT is to prevent or reduce injury to both individuals – the officer and the individual with mental illness – as well as help families with community resources.

NAMI Jacksonville education meetings are held quarterly in various parts of town and are open to the public. Guest speaker at the Sept. 16 meeting will be Clay Meux, Rogers and Towers Attorneys at Law, speaking on Medicaid, trusts and wills. The meeting will be held at RiverPoint Behavioral Health, 6300 Beach Blvd. Check out www.NAMIJacksonville.org to find out about future meetings and support groups. The NAMI Helpline is (904) 724-7782.

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