Mental health crisis in Lynchburg linked to pandemic, placing burden on first responders and hospitals

Lynchburg & Central Virginia News

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) at Horizon Behavioral Health is trained to help officers de-escalate situations pertaining to mental health and addiction in Lynchburg and surrounding jurisdictions.

The CIT says the recent uptick in pandemic-related anxiety is putting a heavy burden on officers and hospitals.

According to CIT Coordinator Debra Jefferson, “A person may very well be suicidal, homicidal, maybe psychotic, maybe hallucinating, delusional.”

Jefferson says these are the types of calls Lynchburg police officers are receiving more often lately.

“The pandemic has a lot to do with it. People are isolated, very anxious, which causes an increase in depression,” Jefferson added. “The rates of addiction, alcoholism, and substance abuse have increased.”

(Photo: Amanda Lee/WFXR News)

Lynchburg Chief of Police Ryan Zuidema says responding officers sometimes stay with patients for days.

“Our officers have been burdened with the significant challenge in meeting the needs of all the mental health calls in our city,” said Zuidema. “The mental health crisis in our community, as well as around the state and the country, is taking officers off the street.”

Jefferson added that it’s also putting a burden on hospitals, saying, “We have a shortage of beds, staff issues at the hospitals, and so, it’s a long process.”

(Photo: Amanda Lee/WFXR News)

The Lynchburg Police Department says they’re working with state legislators to change laws that require officers to stay with patients. Police say, hopefully, this will make more officers available to the public.

Anyone in Lynchburg or the surrounding area can call Horizon Behavioral Health during the day using the emergency services number 434-477-5000 or, if it’s after regular business hours, using the after-hours emergency number 434-522-8191.

On-site assessments can be conducted anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. You can walk in or bring someone else in and request an evaluation.

You can also call Horizon Behavioral Health using the after-hours emergency number after 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and all weekend. For more information about helping with residential substance use, click here.

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