Full-time therapist addresses increasing mental health issues in jail

Full-time therapist addresses...

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - The mental health of inmates has declined significantly over the years, according to La Crosse County Jail officials.

The growing demand led the county to approve a full-time therapist position last February.

"We are the largest mental health facility in the county, more than both hospitals combined,” said jail Capt. Steve Anderson.

Many community members struggling with mental health issues and addiction call the La Crosse County Jail home.

"It's up a lot in the last four or five years,” Anderson said, adding that of the 5,700 bookings in 2017,  2,361, or more than 40 percent required detox treatment.

Clinical therapist Sam Seefeld said that only counts those withdrawing from alcohol or heroin, not those withdrawing from drugs such as meth.

"About 75 percent of people coming in here have substance abuse disorder,” he said.

Anderson said that, in 2016, inmates made 153 suicide threats and/or attempts. That jumped up to 200 in 2017.

"We've just seen the workload grow and grow to the point where we had to do something different,” he said.

That something different was the shift from a part-time to a full-time jail therapist.

"I get to listen,” Seefeld said. "People come in with stories, and they need someone to listen, and that's probably the most rewarding part is providing that spot for them."

He began work in the jail last spring, doing mental health assessments and talking with inmates.

"It keeps me extremely busy,” he said. "Addiction life is notorious for trauma. (I’m) really helping individuals set the stage for at some point getting help for that."

He’s also a liaison for services across the street at the Health and Human Services Building, so inmates can build upon the foundation set in jail.

"Getting people connected to services -- it's just immensely helpful,” Seefeld said.

"So that when they're released, we're not just shoving them on the street, but they have a place they can go where they can get some continuing help,” Anderson said.

While Anderson said having a full-time therapist has improved the jail’s ability to keep up with the increased workload, he believes more could be done to keep inmates out of jail and get them the help they need, including improved access to residential treatment options in the community.

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