Skip to main content

Behind CIT Success

PaulaPaula Brent was a junior in college when the security guards started following her around campus. She was quiet and very shy - never caused any trouble. “So why would they be following me?” she wondered. 

She suspected that the professor who wanted to help her “come out of her shell” was actually suspicious of her. At first, Paula welcomed the help from the professor and was relieved that someone had noticed her. But when the professor and the guards starting following her she became increasingly suspicious and realized that they all wanted her kicked out of school. 

Very upset and distraught, Paula called her mom. When her mom came to campus she found out her daughter was suffering from severe hallucinations It turns out no one was following her at all.  Paula was involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. 

The illness still haunts her today, but it doesn’t stop her from helping others. She now has her Master’s Degree in Community Counseling from Lynchburg College and puts it to use every day as a Horizon Peer Support Specialist at the local Emergency Department. “I can understand better than anyone else what it’s like to have a mental illness,” says Paula. 

“There is hope. A mental illness is part of you, and there is recovery.” Paula says these words to comfort clients suffering from a crisis, but it also helps the police officers that bring them in for evaluation. Paula helps these officers through the Lynchburg-Central Virginia Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). She is one of 28 CIT Trained instructors that teach public safety officers how to spot a mental health crisis. “I see officers that come (to the training) and say they are wasting their time, but by the end they are saying ‘wow, I’m glad I came here’,” says Paula. She adds that it’s not just in their words but their actions – “the way they treat the patient, the kindness they show (a client).”

CIT brings together stakeholders from Horizon, Centra and law enforcement, to improve the overall response to a person experiencing a mental health crisis. To date, the CIT program has trained more than 200 officers and first responders, along with dozens of professionals from college security, social services, regional dispatch, corrections, and the fire department. 

Thanks to a grant secured by Horizon from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, police officers will be able to drop off people in crisis for an evaluation 24/7 365 days a year.  For our community, the CIT training provides a continuum of care for those in need, and a slow deterioration of the wall that is mental health stigma. For Paula, this program means she gets to touch more lives and spread the message of hope: “If you seek services and you stay on medication, chances are that you can live a life that’s good. You can work, have fun, and enjoy your life.”