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Martin County Sheriffs Office seeing spike in calls for people needing emergency mental help

'2 to 4 times every 24 hours, somebody is having a mental health issue,' sheriff says
Posted at 9:57 PM, Jan 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 22:08:22-05

STUART, Fla. — A woman shot by a Martin County deputy Tuesday is still in critical but stable condition.

Sheriff William Snyder said a deputy was forced to open fire, shooting the woman at least twice when she lunged at him with a knife.

Snyder said the woman has struggled with mental health problems for years. She cut her wrists with the knife before trying to attack the deputy.

The sheriff said the case would have been the ninth Baker Act of the day for the agency, an unusually high call number.

However, Snyder said the agency is seeing a higher number of Baker Act and mental health-related calls, averaging two to four calls daily compared to one call per day in previous years.

"So that means two to four times every 24 hours, somebody is having a mental-health issue so severe that they're deemed a threat to themselves or others and have to be taken from the scene to a psychiatric receiving facility," Snyder said.

He said it is likely that the rise in calls is due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental-health professionals are seeing the same local trend.

"The rates of depression and anxiety I've noticed are skyrocketing," Kim Bortot, a licensed psychotherapist with Bortot Counseling Services, said.

She has worked in the field for 20 years. This year, there is more urgency from people seeking her help.

"More and more patients and clients are calling me needing therapy services right now," Bortot said. "So, if I tell them I have availability in a week or so, it's, 'No. I need someone right away.'"

She said she is seeing people who are depressed, anxious and having suicidal thoughts.

"When I dig deep, I'm finding there's domestic issues, loss of jobs, major financial strains, so this is really affecting their mental health," Bortot said.

Snyder said his agency is managing the increased call volume but would like to be able to send mental-health professionals as co-responders with deputies on calls where they know in advance that they are dealing with someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

Until he has the staffing to do so 24 hours a day, Snyder said they are approaching mental health-related calls with care.

"The next best thing is assigning for follow up these cases where, if we Baker Act somebody, it's assigned for follow up to one of our mental-health professionals," he said.

The sheriff's office also sees the mental-health crisis reflected in drug overdose death numbers, almost doubling in 2020 from 2019.