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Collier sheriff's specialized unit addresses mental health issues

Unit seeks to treat people rather than arrest them
Posted at 9:33 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 21:33:01-05

NAPLES, Fla. — Prevention. Intervention. Treatment. Wellness.

Those are the pillars of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s Mental Health Unit. The unit is specially designed to handle calls involving people in crisis from suspected mental illness or substance addiction.

Lieutenant Leslie Weidenhammer, who runs the Mental Health Unit, said it’s important to provide help and resources to those in need, instead of simply taking them to jail.

“Folks with mental health challenges, substance abuse challenges, they don’t get better in jail, they get worse,” Weidenhammer said. “The place where they get better is in the community.”

The Mental Health Unit offers crisis intervention training to all sheriff’s deputies. The unit also employs mental health professionals who respond alongside deputies and perform welfare checks.

“I definitely think having both sides of that and being able to talk to a person and see how we can best help them with all the resources we have combined is best practice,” said Keri Miller, a licensed clinical social worker who works full-time for the sheriff’s office.

The mental health unit provides training for the community. The unit also works closely with Collier County Public Schools to train teachers and help students who might be struggling.

Weidenhammer says the mental health unit has seen a rise in cases since the start of the pandemic, and those numbers have only gone up during the holidays.

“Many of the folks we’re going out working with are estranged from their families for various reasons,” Weidenhammer said, “so we are seeing that uptick.”

Weidenhammer tells us that the number of calls to the mental health unit have gone up drastically since the unit began in 2015.

In the first six months of the year the unit had more than fourteen hundred calls, Weidenmiller said. That’s an average of about eight per day, which Weidenmiller says underscores the importance of the work they’re doing.