NewsLEX 18 In-Depth


The connection between mental health and crime in Lexington

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Posted at 7:17 PM, Jun 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-17 19:48:14-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The city of Lexington set a new homicide record in the month of May and according to the Lexington police department's crime data, at least 36% of the victims were due to domestic violence. Analyzing that, more attention is being placed on the connection between mental health and crime.

Mayor Linda Gorton brought together a group of community experts and safety officials to discuss solutions on June 1. Regular meetings are expected to follow.

"I want to make sure our community understands there are several factors, like mental health, that are tied to our City's recent violence. We have current staff and programs working with those affected by mental illness. We have worked with community partners for a while, and they have great mental health support programs. Our goal is to help amplify the resources that are available, so our community knows what to do when someone has a mental health crisis," said Gorton in a statement on Friday.

What's happening

While police say lately, they're seeing a lot more mental health-related calls for service, so have the communities' mental health experts at New Vista, a non-profit that offers outpatient services to nearly 25,000 adults, children, and families in 17 Central Kentucky counties.

"I don't have exact numbers on what is coming into our agency because of the pandemic. But what I can say is we've seen an increase in referrals from schools, we've seen increases in calls to our helpline, we've seen increases in requests for service and crisis interventions. So, I think it would be foolish to think that the pandemic hasn't affected people it has," said Julie Gosky, Regional Director of CCBHC Health Initiatives.

Annually New Vista provides $700,000 in free clinical services, maintains a staff of 200 licensed therapists, psychiatrists, and nurses, serves the community with 52 program locations, and takes more than 75,000 phone calls on their 24-Hour Helpline 1.800.928.8000. A helpline that has also seen an increase in calls.

In January they took 6,681 calls. In February they took 6,369 calls, and in May they answered 7,568 calls. That includes all lines like the National Suicide Prevention hotline that also gets directed to them.

New Vista's mobile crisis team has consulted or responded to the scene for Lexington police at least 30 times.

"That partnership has started before the pandemic, but it's really intensified through the last several years," said Gosky.

As a whole, so far this year, the mobile team is averaging 110 total requests a month. The team provided interventions, consults, and assessments.

"I think as an agency it is the role and has been the role forever of community mental health to be that safety net for other communities that they serve. And I feel really strongly that New Vista is working really hard to be that safety net at this time," said Gosky.

Why it's happening

Community leaders believe that if people used the resources available, it could cut into the increase in mental health crises.

"I think sometimes people just aren't aware of all the resources that are out there, just not knowing where to turn," said Gosky.

Fayette County District Court judges Melissa Moore Murphy and Lindsay Thurston are seeing the effects of missed opportunities to address mental health through cases in their courtrooms.

"It's very often we see both," said Thurston. "We see a crime that's been committed, and we see a mental health concern in the same person."

National non-profit the Kaiser Family Foundation reports leading into the pandemic in 2018-2019, 67.3% of adults in Kentucky with mild mental illness, 49.6% of adults with moderate mental illness, and 30.4% of adults with serious mental illness did not receive mental health treatment.

To put that in perspective 30% represents 61,000 adults in Kentucky.

Judge murphy sees how that can play out all the time.

"Yes, there are individuals that just commit crimes because they commit crimes and I am not naive to think that we can help everyone by providing these services, but there are some individuals that we know that are first-time offenders," said Murphy.

That's why they are working to connect people accused of a crime to resources while also holding them accountable.

"The one thing that we do is being sure that we are connecting folks to resources. That we're not just making them figure it out on their own," said Murphy. "Sometimes somebody needs that handholding, 'Let's walk you over to a New Vista, let's take you over to this place to work on this mental health assessment' and I think that sometimes we need to be aware that sometimes it takes that."

What's Next

"We hear about like those difficult situations like school shootings and things like that and we say like how we can prevent that with mental health care and there are certainly some things that we can do, but we need to also, we need to also realize we're not going to prevent absolutely everything every time," said Gosky.

While most people who cycle through the criminal justice system have serious health care needs, less than 10% of shooting nationwide involve a suspect who has a mental illness.

"Statistically, a person with a mental illness is more likely to be a victim of crime than a perpetrator of a crime. But at the same time, they may not be getting the help that they need. They may not be connected with medication, they may not be connected with counseling," said Gosky.

That's why experts are careful not to associate all violent crimes with mental health so that it doesn't create a negative stigma around needing help.

"It's always going to be there, but if we get the right people together. If we work hard at it. If we get the resources and make sure those people are known to people," said Thurston.

They're hoping the negative trend they're seeing now will eventually go back down.

"There's never a one size fits all resolution for everyone, so we have to make sure that we are paying attention. We have to make sure that our prosecutors and our defense council are paying attention in order to be more proactive instead of always being reactive and to sometimes have to think outside of the box," said Thurston.

The judges say that's the significance of having these conversations and why they got into their line of work in the first place.

"I wouldn't be in this role, I don't think any of my colleagues would be in this role if we didn't care about this community and care about the people in it," said Thurston.

Thurston and Murphy often have creative brainstorming sessions together to try to come up with solutions to problems they see like mental health crises.

"I do believe that every judge, it does have to be a personal decision for them to want to do this. Otherwise, you won't do it with the right passion, you won't do it with the right energy, you won't do it if it just becomes a job," said Murphy.