Mobile Crisis Outreach Team offers 24/7 help for mental health needs in San Juan County
Most residents in San Juan County already know to call 9-1-1 when they encounter a fire or physical health emergency, but a relatively new service in the community is available for residents who are in a mental health crisis.
Samantha Johnson heads the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT) in San Juan County. In a March 22 interview with Red Rock 92.7 FM Johnson described the team's work. “We’ll meet you where you are, we’ll help you get through the crisis, connect you with services and help you figure out where to go from there.”
The Mobile Crisis Outreach Team is free to users and is indeed mobile.
Johnson says in the first 18-months of the program in San Juan County they’ve traveled throughout the county from Monument Valley to La Sal responding to mental health crises of residents throughout the county.
Visits are done in unmarked vehicles, and members of MCOT keep their work confidential, members of the team respond to requests for help from individuals, concerned family members as well as law enforcement officers.
While the team is able to travel anywhere in the county they are also equipped to help people immediately with phone and video calls. Johnson explains the need for the team in San Juan County, “People don’t always have the time to schedule a therapy appointment and wait the two weeks or however long it takes to get in, sometimes they need help right then, that’s what we do. I think its important because it makes mental healthcare more accessible. One of the most important things we do is we meet people where they are and its a free service.”
Residents and their family members can reach out to the team through a variety of means including calling the Utah Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (TALK) or 801-587-3000. That 24/7 line connects callers to licensed mental health clinicians who can help callers immediately and connect them to the San Juan MCOT team if necessary. Users can also contact San Juan Counseling directly where MCOT is based at 435-678-2992 or visit their offices during business hours at 735 S 200 W in Blanding.
What defines a crisis? Johnson says that’s really up to the individual. “One crisis for someone might not be a crisis for someone else. A lot of it depends on what your resources are,” Johnson explains, “What we do deal a lot with is people having suicidal thoughts. So that’s something that we’re very experienced in but really any sort of mental-health crisis that’s defined by the client if you feel like you need help, we’re here to help you.”
Funding for rural MCOT’s came in 2020 as the result of an effort from state representative Steve Eliason (R) of Sandy. Although the program is new to rural Utah, Salt Lake County has deployed MCOT’s since 2012. Information from the Utah Crisis Service Data shows that of the last 5,300 calls received by the state crisis line about half 2,500 were related to situational stress, while 1,100 were related to suicidal ideation.
Johnson says while they’re trained for responding to people who are having suicidal thoughts they also talk to people in other crises. “We’ve gotten calls from people just feeling stressed out about their job, feeling stressed out about life, we’ve worked with people who have just lost a loved one. So it's not always just suicidal thoughts just kind of any hard thing that you’re going through that you might just need a little extra help.”
Follow-up services from MCOT teams can help residents get connected to a therapist, the county MCOT team also sometimes make several visits with the same residents.
Johnson says a key to their success is their two-way partnership with local law enforcement agencies. “They call us and we call them when we need them. We don’t want our police officers to be have to dealing with mental health crises. We want them to call us so that we’re there to support them and we’re also calling them to come be a back-up with us if we feel like a situation might not be entirely safe but it’s really a two-way street.”
Johnson estimates about one-third of their calls are from law enforcement agencies and has praised local entities for their collaborative work.
A 2020 Utah report shared the experience of an anonymous MCOT user, who shared how they were able to talk through anxiety related to financial and relationship stress.“I was given strategies for self-care and resources for therapy, even without insurance coverage. I can’t believe they would come out to my home and spend the time to help me in this way. I appreciate this so much. You have been lifesavers for me.”
Although she can’t share specific stories, Johnson says she’s seen the difference the program has made for individuals in San Juan County. “We’ve had family members and individuals that we’ve helped reach out to us after the fact just to thank us. To me, that really shows me that we’re really helping people and we’re making a difference.”
Johnson estimates San Juan County’s Mobile Crisis Outreach Team travels out to 3-4 calls a week, with variation depending on the week.
“We have the availability to come out and help you, so don’t be afraid to call.”