New focus on mental health for Malden Police

MALDEN, Mass. — Still mired in a pandemic that strained the mental health of many, Malden police are among the departments looking to ease tensions during often difficult interactions with mentally ill residents.

Malden officers sat down exclusively with Boston 25 News reporter Evan White to talk about a form of mental health training that is new to the department.

In late June, patrol officers and command staff voluntarily took courses hosted by The Nan Project, whose goal is to promote mental health awareness and suicide prevention with a focus on younger people, according to its website.

Malden, Stoneham, and Wakefield are among the departments who have taken the training of late, according to Sgt. Michael Powell, a Malden police member of 16 years.

He has taken dozens of training courses for firearms, new laws, techniques, but says this mental health class was different.

“There was a very intimate part of this training,” Powell said.

“We got to hear real stories from real people who are dealing, who have dealt with mental health or substance abuse issues.”

He quickly learned that slowing things down and changing the tone officers often use when speaking with others can ease anxiety and tension.

“It’s not going to be hard, it’s a matter of education, Powell said.

Section 12 calls as they’re called involve first responders bringing people to hospitals for mental health evaluation and potentially committing them to psychiatric wards.

Such calls have been happening frequently in Malden in recent years. So far this year there have been 110 of these calls, last year, 220, in 2019 there were 143, according to department records.

“I’ve been affected in my own life with people who are affected by mental health and substance abuse disorders,” said Detective Steven Mulcahy.

For Detective Mulcahy the biggest takeaway was the importance of being a better listener.

In addition to looking for more mental health courses, the department is considering hiring a mental health professional who would be based at the police department and provide expertise on a case-by-case basis, said Powell. The hire is dependent on additional funding, he added.