The conditions of quarantine are a heavy burden to bare for anyone, but for those that struggle with mental illness, the balance between being safe and unsafe to themselves or others is much more unstable.

The stay-at-home order issued to residents of LA County is an added stressor for those with a chronic mental health issue. 

“It could just be harder in general for someone that’s already dealing with mental health issues or trauma to deal with the stress of these changes,” Erika Perry-Dutton, a local marriage and family therapist, explains.

Perry-Dutton says that the basis of humanity lies in communication. “People are meant to interact with other people, we’re not meant to be solitary creatures. We’re social animals.”

The fact that people are unable to participate in their usual in-person interactions due to the threat of being exposed to a highly contagious virus with no cure has shaken many to the core, but those with a preexisting mental illness could be more emotionally triggered than most.

“Obviously COVID is dangerous to everybody so we have to keep social distancing, but there is a cost to that for people’s emotional wellbeing. If people are not getting treatment and support, their life could be in danger.” 

Because normal face-to-face interaction is unsafe during this time, finding support can be very difficult, especially if you live alone, Perry-Dutton says.  

“It can trigger either past trauma or past memories of being isolated. People that experience anxiety or depression go through periods of time where they’re isolated because of their mental health symptoms, so experiencing self-isolation or stay-at-home isolation can remind them of when they were experiencing those mental health symptoms, and they may not have the support system that some people have where they can stay connected with people if they’ve been having mental health issues.”

Because of this, those living with a chronic mental health condition are more likely to engage in unsafe behavior.

When someone takes action to harm either themself or others, it becomes necessary to get law enforcement involved. 

Luckily, the LA County Sheriff’s Department has 33 specialized teams trained to handle crises involving mental health.

Image Courtesy of @SCVSHERIFF on Twitter

The Mental Evaluation Teams are made up of one LA County Sheriff’s Deputy and one Department of Mental Health clinician, who do everything they can to prevent the detainment of those suffering from mental illness, cut back on use of force incidents, and avoid hospitalizations, according to the 2018 LASD annual MET report.

The MET program is also tasked with training the rest of the Sheriff’s department’s forces on how to help someone in a mental health related crisis, educating family members on how to support their loved ones, and directing those needing additional services to the proper resources.

In cases where an individual is so unsafe that they need around-the-clock observation, they are placed on an involuntary hold and transported to a psychiatric facility.

In the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year, the Santa Clarita MET Team was able to handle 430 mental health calls that resulted in 268 holds, up 37.2% from the last fiscal year.

As a County, the MET Teams responded to 5,647 crises that ended in 3,797 holds, which is down 55.4% compared to last year’s numbers.

Since 2015, the joint efforts of the Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Mental Health have no doubt saved hundreds of lives. 

The joint efforts of the Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Mental Health and their dedication to the people of LA County have no doubt saved and improved hundreds of lives.

Image courtesy of @LACoSheriff on Twitter

If you or anyone you know is in need of emergency mental health assistance, the Department of Mental Health maintains an access hotline that can be reached 24/7 at (800) 854-7771, or you can text “LA” to 741741.

[Image courtesy of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health]

Other resources:

A special thanks to Sergeant Vincent Plair, Ed.D at the Sheriff’s Department for his assistance.

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