Local News

Deputies, others to get training to recognize mental illness signs

SEBRING - In the wake of an incident where a man shot at houses in his neighborhood, plans are being developed to provide training to all Highlands County deputies to help them recognize signs of mental illness, Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said Monday.

Benton said the sheriff's office is proceeding with those plans despite not receiving a grant that would have helped pay for the training. Emergency responders and others who might assist in call responses are also being trained.

"It's so that we're all on the same page," she said.

The shooting incident earlier this month on Plantation Drive occurred when Floyd Gene Hodge, 31, walked down the street shooting at houses. When deputies arrived, Hodge refused to drop his AK-47 rifle and started firing at deputies. Sgt. John Singha then fatally shot Hodge.

Benton said family members told her that Hodge suffered mental problems, which had grown worse.

Commenting on a general basis, Bob Irving, clinical director of outpatient services at Tri-County Mental Health Services, said a person in such a situation may well have a major issue in their lives. Substance abuse and/or mental illness could affect how that person deals with the problem, he said.

Some people end up in the Highlands County jail, a situation that may be in part because of a lack of mental health funding, officials say.

Dorothy Reed, a registered nurse who is the behavioral health coordinator at the Highlands County Jail, said the jail receives every week at least six inmates who have mental issues. The jail has mental and substance abuse counselors, as well as a psychiatrist for those with more serious mental issues.

One of the biggest problems, she said, is that many mentally ill people take medicine, but when they feel better they stop taking the drugs. Then, in some cases, they hear voices that might tell them to do something that will get them arrested, she said.

Benton said that is a problem that the training will help to address. Crisis stabilization teams that see evidence of a person having mental issues will get the person help, she said.

As part of that, Benton said, the team members will follow up with the person to see they are taking their medicines and keeping their appointments with counselors.

The aim is to provide treatment to the individual before their behavior escalates, she said.

Inmates in the jail who need treatment beyond what is available are sent to a crisis stabilization unit in Bartow, Reed said.

Ultimately, Benton hopes that a crisis stabilization unit can be opened in Highlands County, but there is a question of when funding will be available, she said.


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