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Over the past several years, law enforcement agencies in Pittsburgh and across the country have faced an increase in the number and complexity of calls involving people experiencing mental health crises.
At the same time, interactions between law enforcement and marginalized community members have come under scrutiny, further complicating police intervention in mental health crises.
In one of several efforts at Pitt to ensure the safety of students and the community, the University Counseling Center (UCC) and the University of Pittsburgh Police Department are partnering to create the Pittsburgh Higher Education Assessment and Response Team (HEART) on the Pittsburgh campus. The initiative provides an immediate co-response by mental health professionals and police to students in distress.
HEART aims to de-escalate crisis situations to ensure that the least restrictive and most clinically appropriate intervention is applied to the student’s situation.
“We are proud to partner with UCC to assist in delivering mental health care to those in need,” said Ted Fritz, Pitt’s vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management. “This new collaboration provides additional resources in responding to and resolving mental health crises, working together to ensure the health and safety of Pitt community members.”
“A crisis is defined person to person, and needs are always individualized,” said UCC clinician and HEART staffer Katelyn Zeak. “We will work with students to empower and assist them in developing options, whether we work with them through an immediate crisis, maintain safety in their natural settings or assist them in accessing higher levels of immediate care.”
In addition to aiding students in distress and de-escalating crisis situations, members of the HEART program will collaborate with local police departments and community mental health providers such as UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and resolve Crisis Services to reduce stigma and barriers to accessing mental health care and increase help-seeking behavior. For the initial phase, the co-response will be for on-campus concerns only.
Ultimately, said Alexander Sipe, another clinician and HEART member, “The program is designed to reduce the risk of students in crisis experiencing another traumatizing event, especially for those students who belong to minoritized communities with historically contentious relationships with the police.”
Reaching out is the first step in getting help. If you require support for an urgent or crisis situation, call the University Counseling Center at 412-648-7930 at any time to speak directly with a clinician, or call Pitt Police at 412-624-2121.
To initiate a welfare check for someone, please contact Pitt Police at 412-624-2121 and HEART clinicians will respond alongside them Wednesdays through Sundays from 3-11 p.m.
If you believe someone is experiencing a crisis or is in distress, stay with the person and immediately call Pitt Police at 412-624-2121 or 911. If you are not with them, keep the conversation going until you can connect them with help.