A blue background with text that says, “Mental Health & Finals a chat with the SMPD mental health unit. A red brain with a graduation cap is above.

Mental Health Unit of SMPD Raise Concerns of Finals Seasons

By Ally Bolender
Web Content Contributor

Let’s be real – finals can have a huge impact on our mental health. This semester has gone by so fast, and now grades are coming in. But don’t worry, you’re not alone.

The Mental Health Unit of the San Marcos Police Department encourages students to use university and city mental health resources during this time. During finals, the end of a semester and holidays, crisis calls to SMPD go up.

Officers of the Mental Health Unit, a specialized unit of SMPD, accredit this spike to finals season for Texas State students.

According to the SMPD 2018 blotter, MHU officers responded to 305 suicidal person calls in 2018. Thirty percent of those calls occurred between October and December.

“With finals coming around, [students] get more stressed,” said Officer Joyce Bender, one of the three officers who make up the MHU. “They get in a crisis mode, and they don’t know how to deal with things. Grades are coming in, and they’re afraid to tell their parents. When you have different things piling up, [younger generations] have difficulty trying to cope with everything.”

Crisis calls are 911 calls regarding a resident suffering a mental health related emergency and in need of assistance.

Officers of the MHU find that they work with younger San Marcos residents more frequently than older residents. They also respond to calls from apartment complexes more frequently than residential neighborhood homes.

Two of the most common factors that officers say they see when helping people is stress from school and financial instability. Officers of the MHU encourage students to plan ahead for holiday and finals season to get ahead of a mental health crisis.

“There’s a lot more need for mental health than there are services available,” said Corporal Donald Lee who works on the MHU. “You can go to the counselors that deal with [mental health], everybody is understaffed. We’re in a good place now. Mental health is being seen as an illness, not a choice, so I think we’re addressing things appropriately. But at the same time, we still have a long ways to go.”

Aside from responding to crisis calls, the MHU trains other departments on crisis response and de-escalating techniques, and they practice community outreach and education about mental health.

The San Marcos MHU is one of the few police branches dedicated to mental health in Texas, and the first police department in Texas to have a registered therapy dog for residents in crisis.

Sheldon Cooper is an adorable border collie mix who assists the MHU on crisis calls to decrease anxiety and stress. Cooper also assists with community outreach through dog safety and therapy dog presentations. Cooper is Bender’s personal dog who she donated to the program when it was founded in December 2017.

Sheldon Cooper was the first registered therapy dog for a police department in Texas! Officer Bender of the MHU started the program for police departments in 2017. Cooper’s job is to help people going through a crisis and make them feel safe and calm. Image via SMPD website.

“The way I look at it, mental health is still in its infancy in law enforcement,” said Grant Sheridan, the third officer on the MHU. “Last we checked, 15% of departments have a dedicated mental health unit.”

The MHU works directly with the Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Center to provide an array of services, including crisis stabilization. The Hill Country MHDD crisis hotline is 877-466-0660, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Texas State University counseling center offers an abundance of mental health resources for students. The university provides group therapy and online therapy sessions as waiting periods for therapy sessions can last a few months. The university also provides specialized resources for LGBTQ+ persons, veterans and victims of sexual assault.

For more information about the SMPD MHU, visit their website.

You got this, Bobcats!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. For emergencies, call 911.

Featured image by Ally Bolender.

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