HOUSTON – Following the tragic discovery of the body of Kay-Alana Turner, a woman who may have been experiencing a mental health crisis and fled from deputies, a dialogue has ignited regarding interactions with individuals facing similar challenges during mental health crises.

Nicole Milton, Training Manager at Mental Health America of Greater Houston, emphasized that warning signs may not always be evident in individuals experiencing a mental health crisis or in its early stages.

“One is rapid mood swings. If people are suddenly depressed or withdrawn. Those things happen very quickly or they are suddenly happy or calm after like a depressive period. Also, people that are not taking care of themselves like brushing their teeth. Other things to look out for are people who are isolating,” Milton said. “The ones that we’re probably most that we’re used to seeing the most are people who are agitated or have out-of-control behavior.”

When it comes to de-escalating situations involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, it’s advised to introduce oneself and inquire about their names. If there’s a lack of response and the situation escalates or poses a danger, contacting emergency services is recommended. Additionally, other options include reaching out to mobile crisis outreach teams or Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) for assistance.

“The first thing you want to do is make sure to ensure your safety. Make sure that person is not in immediate danger to themselves or others. If you want to approach that person, try to have a presence of calmness and even tone of voice to let that person know you are listening and offering help,” Milton said. “It’s not always necessary to call 911 again and read that person unless that person is endangering themselves or others.”

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The Houston Police Department has a CIRT team that pairs Houston CIT officers with a licensed clinician from The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. They attend roll-call and patrol together, offering the highest level of response to serious mental health crises.

“Instead of just sending out a police officer, you’re sending out an officer with someone who is a mental health professional and they can help de-escalate that person so that you can get them to a sense of calm,” Milton explained. “Sometimes when people are moving into a crisis and they see law enforcement that can also escalate their crisis and feel like they’re about to be in danger. “Whereas you want someone who can speak calmly to them to ask questions, potentially make a connection, and help, especially for an everyday citizen and I’m not really sure what to do.”

Local resources for mental health

Mental Health America of Greater Houston is a nonprofit organization focused on advocacy, education, and training in mental health. They provide community education on mental health resources and offer training on recognizing and responding to mental health challenges. While they don’t provide counseling or therapy directly, they connect individuals to available resources such as therapy services, mental health tracking tools, and specialized resources for different communities, including young people, the elderly, and minority groups. Their website offers a comprehensive list of mental health resources, including support for substance abuse, health equity, and guidance for navigating faith-based communities.

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