On the Front Line of Mental Health: Brenau Window
When Anjana Freeman, BU ’06, saw the Gainesville Police Department hiring a mental health clinician, the University of Brenau alumnus and assistant professor of psychology said it was as if the universe sent her an invitation to do this that she was supposed to do.
When Freeman was growing up, his mother suffered from a mental illness and came into contact with law enforcement officers on several occasions. This, coupled with a fascination with the field of psychology, led Freeman to pursue a career in which she could provide help and resources for people to improve their lives.
“I remember when I was a teenager, just knowing in my heart that we needed law enforcement and mental health to work together for the good of the community,” says Freeman, who received his master’s degree in clinical counseling psychology in Brenau in 2006. “I have always had a passion for this job, and I think the kind of position I have did not really exist until last year in this area.
While police mental health clinicians are not new, many are contracted out by local behavioral health organizations. Freeman, however, is employed by the department, giving her easier access to files and people who have interacted with agents in the field.
Freeman says one of the strengths of his job is connecting people to resources. If the police suspect a person they have been called or encountered is having a mental health crisis, they are called to assess what kind of help is needed. This could mean having the person assessed in a crisis stabilization unit, finding accommodation, or referring them to other mental health resources.
For Freeman, who also trained law enforcement in understanding trauma and mental health before joining GPD, each person helped is another achievement.
“With mental health, we kind of measure success differently,” says Freeman. “It’s a success if I just make contact with someone and they go away knowing there is help and someone cares. They can go back and relapse and have all kinds of problems. But every time they connect with someone who truly cares, they come closer to being able to use that resource to make a real difference.
Cpl. Jessica Van, WC ’10, the Community Liaison Officer with GPD, has seen the conversation about mental health and law enforcement grow during his 10 years with the police service.
“I have seen so much progress since I started here,” says Van, who received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Brenau. “We have a lot more training in mental health. “
Van often sees how important mental health training can be in law enforcement scenarios. She interacts with the public on a daily basis and it is her job to help communicate during traumatic situations where emotions can be strong. Van also spends a lot of time reviewing the reports that were sent to the service. If she suspects that a mental health crisis may have played a role in an incident, she contacts Freeman.
“When I read reports that don’t match the crime committed, it’s often about someone with mental health issues,” Van says. “Whenever I have instances where I think someone might not have a safe home environment, for example, I call Anjana because she has more experience and connections to resources that can help. . “
Freeman and Van say the department leadership supports them and encourages them to make changes, especially when it comes to mental health.
“I am more than grateful and honored that our community has used all resources to help adopt our agency’s mental health program,” said Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish. “It’s a vision that I have had for a long time, and it’s gratifying to see that vision come to fruition. Adding mental health training and providing additional resources to our agents essentially offers better long-term solutions for everyone involved, whereas before we were limited to short-term solutions. “
Van and Freeman also give back to the community of Brenau. Van has helped teach self-defense classes at the university, while Freeman works with Master of Clinical Counseling Psychology students during their internships with the GPD. During internships, students learn the process of supporting people when mental health and law enforcement intersect.
“Integrating mental health personnel into law enforcement is a relatively new endeavor, so being able to train graduate students at this early stage is very exciting,” says Julie Battle, President of the Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling. . “More and more law enforcement agencies are starting to see the benefit of having licensed mental health professionals on their teams. “
Battle says students who have worked with law enforcement in the past have an advantage when they graduate.
“They will be ready to help other law enforcement agencies establish a mental health presence,” Battle said. “The integration of mental health personnel into law enforcement agencies is extremely important to the health and safety of officers as well as the health and safety of those who come into contact with officers. “
Freeman is happy to see more mental health professionals joining law enforcement – and she’s thrilled that current and future Brenau interns are part of the change.
“What gets me excited when I wake up is that I think we’re making a cultural shift,” she says. “I think we’re at the start of something really huge, and it’s this mental health and law enforcement co-response. I just believe that 20 years from now it will be unheard of that mental health clinicians have not been involved in law enforcement. It’s exciting to be at the start of this.