LHISD police to train on mental health issues

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By ANTHONY FLORES

As the topic of mental health in children and teenagers becomes better understood, school officials are learning many new methods of dealing with situations becoming more common today.

The Liberty Hill ISD Police Department is using the summer break to become better versed in ways to help students who may be facing mental stress by taking part in a mental health training course.

The COVID-19 virus has forced the training to a new location, better suited to properly social distance.

“Things are going so far, so good, they did change the venue,” said Liberty Hill ISD Police Department Chief Sharif Mezayek. “We changed from the original location. We were going to AISD to do this, but we changed from there to the Travis County Sheriff’s Department. They have a bigger area, and they’re planning on doing social distancing. We start Monday.”

Despite moving to a new location, Mezayek is still cautious as there’s always a chance for cancellation.

“Hopefully, we get through it,” he said. “Everything else has been getting canceled. I signed the guys up for a class the other day, and in two hours, it was canceled.”

During Mezayek’s time in law enforcement, being prepared to handle mental health situations began to gain traction.

“Years ago, law enforcement was mandated to take a basic course on mental health,” he said. “When you come along with someone dealing with mental issues on the street, you need to be equipped better to handle the situation.”

When Mezayek first started working in school-based law enforcement, mental health issues weren’t as prevalent as now.

“Very seldom did we ever have a student in a mental health crisis,” he said. “The way that we handled those was we would work with the parents, Bluebonnet to facilitate. Fast forward a little over 20 years, and we’re dealing with mental health in schools a lot more.”

School officials see mental health issues of various levels of severity.

“It’s quite a bit, we deal with the mental health of all kinds from something minor to something more serious like suicide,” Mezayek said. “When we would get calls on the street, a lot of them are mental health.”

This upcoming training will help the department adjust to the rising issue of mental health in kids and teenagers. Officers will be better suited to not only assess the situation but get individuals the help they need.

“It’s grown over the years, and I think it’s very important for us to know how to handle a mental health situation, and I want the officers to be trained to take care of whatever they come across,” Mezayek said. “This mental health training that we’re going to go to is going to make them full mental health officer where they can assess people in mental crisis and find help for them.”

The training session Mezayek and staff are attending is a 40-hour course on how to identify mental health issues and de-escalate situations.

“It’s an in-depth look at how to identify mental health, how to de-escalate, how to assess and see where someone is, and if they need immediate help or even a follow up later on,” he said. “It takes you through how to build a rapport with the subject and, in the end, make a determination to get the person the help they need.”

This training makes it possible for officers to help the young people in Liberty Hill get through some of the rough patches in their lives. For Mezayek, this is what keeps him going and why a course like this is so important.

“To be honest with you, if it wasn’t for the kids, I probably wouldn’t be doing this anymore,” said Mezayek. “This is what I want to do. I want to work with and help kids.”

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