FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Calls for help to the Fort Wayne Police Department from people having a mental health crisis are on the rise.

15 Finds Out pulled the calls for service for the last 20 years. While the specific Suicide Threat calls are a very small percentage of all the runs the department makes, a closer look at those calls shows a steady increase. One of the sharpest rises happened in 2020 – the start of the pandemic.

“I think there are societal factors at play, but I think also that there’s been an emphasis in the last few years placed on mental health, so they’re reaching out more for assistance,” Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed said. “Individuals or family members are recognizing that people need help. I want them to call.”

Every Fort Wayne police officer is trained in how to respond to someone having a mental health crisis.

“They have 24 hours of Critical Incident Training initially in the basic academy and then ongoing training throughout their career. They arrive, they assess the situation and take the proper steps to get that person help,” Reed said.

Marcia Haaff, President and CEO of the Lutheran Foundation, said suicide rates have actually dropped in the last two years, but that doesn’t mean threats haven’t increased.

“According to the CDC, 40 percent more people have anxiety and depression since before COVID. Sometimes family won’t know what to do, so they might call law enforcement,” she said.

“We don’t diagnose, but at least recognize it and say ‘Ok, this person doesn’t need incarceration. This person needs to go talk to a mental health professional and get some help,'” Sgt. Jeremy Webb said. “I think society in general is better at recognizing mental health as well. So, before you might think, ‘Oh, this is behavior-induced.’ Now people think, ‘Okay. This is a mental health issue.'”

Webb has been a police officer for 17 years and on the FWPD Crisis Response Team as a negotiator for seven years. Some mental health-related calls can’t be resolved quickly and the CRT is called in. Just as more people recognize when to call for help in a mental health crisis, how police respond to those calls has evolved too.

“I think there was a push to get things resolved more quickly, but now time can be our friend. If it’s just one person in there and nobody else is in danger, we have time,” Webb said.

The average time for a solo barricade situation is about four hours. Every call is different, but they all start with building rapport with the person in crisis.

“If we make a connection and our conversation is going well and it looks like we’re making progress, then sometime that will drag it out because we’ll say, ‘Okay. Let’s see if this person will come out voluntarily’ because that’s what we want,” Webb said.

Those calls can be stressful for the officers too.

“We need to think about the fatigue on those officers,” Haaff said. “We need to let them know that that’s OK and support them in that journey. They can’t keep our public safe if they’re not healthy themselves.”

“A few years ago we recognized that we need to do a better job in helping our officers with their own mental health. So we’ve added a peer support team, which is officers who have additional training that officers can talk to and go to no matter what the situation that’s bothering them is,” Chief Reed said.

Those resources are available for retired officers as well.

“It seems like the culture is more accepting. Before there used to be a stigma on mental health. You know, suck it up, deal with it yourself. I see that going away. Just like we get physical checkup for our body, we get emotional checkups,” Webb said.

While the stigma surrounding mental health issues is getting better, we call can be part of helping each other heal.

“We need to take QPR: question, persuade and refer. If I’m trained in CPR, I better be trained in QPR. It teaches how to know what to say. We have to talk and I want people to know there’s hope,” Haff said.

If someone needs to talk to someone, call 877-257-0208 24/7. LookUpIndiana.org also has a text-to-chat number and other resources.

The pandemic’s caused a lot of job, home and food insecurity – which in turn caused a lot of anxiety and depression. Connect Allen County can help people get assistance too.

Chief Reed also said mental health issues and substance abuse and addiction often go hand-in-hand. See more on the department’s efforts on that front in this video: