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Chisago County Sheriff’s Office uses drone to help person experiencing mental health crisis

By Allen Henry

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    CHISAGO COUNTY, Minnesota (WCCO) — The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office says a combination of technology and compassion resulted in a successful rescue of a person experiencing a mental health crisis earlier this week.

According to their office, dispatchers received “specific, credible, and time-sensitive information about a person that was suicidal.”

“In a situation like that, you know time is of the essence where we want to try to find this person as quickly as possible, make contact with them and get them the help that they need,” said Sgt. Kyle Puelston.

That’s why the sheriff’s office decided to launch one of its drones to help in their response.

“It’s not the piece of equipment that solves every single incident or the right tool for every single job. But in this incident, it was exactly what was needed,” Puelston said. “Now you’re using one piece of equipment to get information that might take 10, 20, 30 people several hours to search an area, you can get it in minutes with a drone.”

Once in the air, the drone canvassed the park and was eventually able to find someone who seemed out of place.

“He eventually was able to find a person that was along the rock ledge kind of walking, pacing back and forth, walked away from the ledge walked up to the ledge. And that’s what drew his attention to that person to say, I think this is who we’re looking for,” Puelston said. “We were able to find this person, get them the help they need, connect them back with their family members and have hopefully a long-term positive outcome that may not and probably would not have happened had not we had a drone pilot working that night, and knew how to use the drone effectively, and locate that person.”

“I’m fascinated by the way this group of people came together, used technology and all the resources to really truly save somebody’s life,” said Jode Freyholtz-London, CEO of Wellness in the Woods, a nonprofit that supports individuals going through struggles with mental health and/or substance use.

She says it’s important to realize the positive outcome might not have been possible if someone hadn’t called the police.

“I think most of us, if we would see any kind of a physical crisis going on, somebody would jump in, be it a nurse, a mandated reporter, someone who’s had CPR training,” she said. “We don’t always do that when there’s a mental health crisis because we don’t know if we’re doing the right thing. We don’t know what to say or what to do. And so really, really just lot of validation to the person who made the call.”

The National Council of Behavioral Health says you’re more likely to come in contact with someone having an emotional difficulty than someone having a heart attack or choking on a piece of food in a restaurant.

Freyholtz-London says mental health first aid is a valuable skill for people to learn.

“Individuals who are making that decision are doing it, not thinking that there’s any hope. And if we can give some hope to people and really show them that, that there are people who care…because many of us who have dealt with suicidal feelings have felt that we are all alone, and that life isn’t gonna get any better,” Freyholtz-London said. “What we want to do is present a calm environment and assuring environment that we’re there for them.”

One acronym to remember is ALGEE.

A – Approach and assess risk. L – Listen nonjudgmentally G – Give reassurance and information E – Encourage appropriate professional help E – Encourage self-help and support strategies Both Freyholtz-London and Sgt. Puelston say calling in backup is never the wrong choice.

“We’re not able to provide the help that they may need unless we get those phone calls to help respond tothat incident. Whether it’s a mental health crisis or whether it’s a drunk driver on the road, we need the public’s help to give us the information to know where to respond to and what’s going on,” Puelston said.

“You can never make the wrong choice if you ask for extra help. You can make a deadly choice if you don’t ask for help. Sometimes we just have to say Hello, are you okay? I care about you… because for those of us who have been in those difficult situations, it doesn’t feel like we have worth, it doesn’t feel like tomorrow is going to be any better,” Freyholtz-London said. “So for people who are courageous enough to ask that question, to go out and say something that might be uncomfortable for them. Absolutely can save lives. I think that is imperative.”

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