A civilized approach to mental illness pays off in Duluth

A small statistic, cited on Wednesday in Duluth, carries some big significance.

Duluth police have had 31 percent fewer mental health-related calls, a confirmation that a more civilized approach to dealing with mental illness is working and deserves expansion throughout the state.

“We do not want to police mental health,” Mayor Emily Larson said, according to the Duluth News Tribune. “We want to support and encourage an increased mental health.”

Calls to police about people in mental health crisis have too often resulted in someone ending up dead.

Duluth established a Mental Health Unit, consisting of two dedicated police officers and two embedded social workers.

“It is daunting to think of the impacts of mental health in our community, because we all know someone who has suffered,” Police Chief Mike Tusken said. “But we have to approach this one person at a time. And we do that by being there to care for people who need a hand up. It’s effective, it’s changing lives and it’s really been one of the most meaningful projects that I’ve been involved in in my entire career.”

The team does everything from street corner therapy to helping people stay on medications, to connecting them with social services that can help keep people out of the justice system.

“We’re looking for unique ways to serve people differently and hearing everybody’s unique story. We’re taking the time to develop the relationship with the individual and kind of hear where they’re at and what they want rather than just managing people around,” Patty Whelan, one of the social workers said, according to WDIO.

“It’s the right thing to do,” County Board Chair Patrick Boyle said. “As a society, I think we can do better. And as a community, I think we are leaders.”

Related: As mental health calls rise, Rochester cops try a social worker in the squad (MPR News)