The Albuquerque Behavioral Health Community scored a big win for our city the last two weeks.

On Friday, April 4, the training manual for the “Perspectives in Psychosis and Mania” and “Crisis Deescalation” developed in collaboration by APD Detective Matthew Tinney, APD Psychiatrist Nils Rosenbaum, Robert Salazar (Peer Advocate/NAMI Albuquerque board member), Rasma Cox (Peer Advocate/DBSA Albuquerque Chapter Co-President), and Steve Bringe (Peer Advocate/DBSA Albuquerque Chapter Co-President) was put into action at the Albuquerque Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team training.

This training manual, which has been submitted to the Department of Justice in accordance with the APD settlement agreement (and includes a byline credit for DBSA Albuquerque Chapter’s role in developing the manual), brings peers and law enforcement together to prepare better Albuquerque police officers for safe and positive encounters for all involved in a mental health crisis situation.

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is 40 hours of APD training that focuses on education, insight, understanding, and successful outcomes for interactions between police officers and individuals contending with mental health issues.

The final two hours of the 40 hours are dedicated to “Perspectives in Psychosis and Mania” and “Crisis Deescalation.” Through our lived experience, we share anecdotes and stories of what it’s like to have mental health symptoms that lead to encounters with law enforcement. The goal is to help law enforcement understand that they only see in crisis situations, that we are not our illness, and successful and sustainable recovery is possible. As many officers portray their impressions of our stories, “You peers helped put a human face on mental illness.”

With the “Crisis Deescalation” presentation, we share with officers specific instances where our crisis situation led to law enforcement becoming involved. The goal for this presentation is through our lived experience and stories we can convey to police officers what works well in crisis situations, what must be avoided, and what could use improvement. Police officers comment that this sort of practical information they could get in no other way than our willingness to share openly what it is like to live with the symptoms of a mental illness.

Our collaboration with APD has extended beyond the CIT classroom. And abbreviated format of “Perspectives” and “Deescalation” was tried out with Project ECHO. ECHO is in response to the geographic factors of getting psychiatric services to the remote populations of New Mexico. Providers, case workers, peer support organizations, etc., cannot fulfill the needs of peers in remote communities, primarily because of the time it takes to travel from large population areas like Albuquerque to small, isolated communities like Reserve in Catron County (it is estimated that the elk population of Catron County outnumbers the human population of Catron County).

ECHO utilizes a audio/video network of live cameras, display screens, local coordinators, and a secure communication system to bring necessary services to peers in these remote communities. The connection is made between provider and peer via ECHO.

Detective Tinney and Doctor Rosenbaum came up with the ingenious idea of using ECHO to train law enforcement in these remote communities. They have been beta-testing ECHO CIT training and two Fridays ago Rasma Cox and Steve Bringe were invited to present “Perspectives” and “Deescalation” to law enforcement in Rio Arriba County, San Juan County (Farmington), Dona Ana County (Las Cruces), and two other law enforcement agencies. Many excellent questions were asked to Rasma and Steve, and based on the success of this first ECHO peer presentation, DBSA Albuquerque has a continued invitation to participate in ECHO CIT training from Albuquerque.

There is much more to share about DBSA Albuquerque Chapter’s excellent collaboration with the Albuquerque Police Department and other lawn enforcement agencies around the State of New Mexico. As a final teaser about a quickly developing ECHO project spearheaded by DBSA Albuquerque Chapter, we are addressing the specific logistics of using ECHO for an extended DBSA Albuquerque Chapter support group bringing remote communities together with large population centers to have an ECHO peer support group.

DBSA Albuquerque Chapter continues to build on our success of public outreach and education. More soon!