Barnstable County

Bourne police chief concerned about rise in mental health calls

BOURNE, Mass. — In 1934, the American Institute of Steel Construction named the newly completed Bourne Bridge as the “Most Beautiful Bridge” of the year.

But lately, the bridge has become a span of sadness.

“A quick look at our statistics showed about 11 incidents that we’ve responded to in the past 20 years,” said Chief Brandon Esip of the Bourne Police Department. “With four of those in the last year. That’s a third of our calls.”

The latest call came last Saturday, when state and local police got a multitude of reports that someone was trying to scale the Bourne Bridge.

“By the time we got there, there was no one observed in the area,” said Esip. “Unfortunately, we found that individual in the water.”

That individual was a 32-year-old man from Wareham who had taken his own life.

The incident prompted Esip to post a widely read comment on the department’s Facebook page. In it, he expresses sympathy for the man’s family. But he also notes police departments everywhere are responding to a multitude of calls from those in mental crisis.

“The calls that we’re responding to are anywhere from someone who wants to harm themselves, to somebody who’s having issues in their house, to people that are wandering the streets,” Esip said. “It’s not necessarily police assistance that they need. They need mental health assistance. But we’re the ones that are being called at two in the morning.”

In fact, the department has been getting so many calls it’s looking to hire a mental health professional who can go out on calls with police. Money’s been allocated for the position, but the shortage of mental health professionals has impacted the hiring process.

“It’s tough to find qualified individuals,” Esip said.

But even though it’s difficult to find mental health help, it’s not impossible, he added.

“There’s a national hotline, 9-8-8,” he said. “You can call it from anywhere in the country. It will bring you to a local group. In our area, it’s the Samaritans. And they answer the call, they offer services, they will get assistance for you.”

Chief Esip’s Facebook post got some 1,500 comments, likes and reposts.

“They are all supportive of the message that we, as a community, are here to help,” he said. “If you know a family member that needs assistance... if you, yourself, need assistance, 9-8-8 is the number to call.”

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