Scott Rinehart knows what it feels like to be in a dark place.
“Many years ago, I was suicidal,” Rinehart said. “I had a shotgun in my mouth. I know what it took to get to this place. It has haunted me.”
Twenty years later, the Mansfield police officer deals with people in similar situations almost every day as the department’s mental health liaison. And he has noticed the silent victims -- the families of people with mental illness.
“Some are lost and don’t know what to do next or they have experienced this for a long time and are out of resources,” Rinehart said. “They feel alone.”
Rinehart has started a support group for these families to share ideas, strategies, failures, successes and to get direction. The group will hold its first meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Public Safety Building, 1305 E. Broad St. Only the families and friends of those affected by mental illness are invited, Rinehart pointed out, since the mentally ill have their own resources.
“This is the only program like this I know of anywhere,” said Daniel Sherwin, the Mansfield police community resource officer. “We try to educate the families before they kill themselves, before the police have to be at your door and have to put your family member in the hospital.”
Rinehart has been the department’s mental health liaison for several years, he said, but he officially took on the title after going through training to become certified last year. He will now train the rest of the officers in the Mansfield department on how to deal with people with mental and emotional issues.
He wants to help their loved ones learn how to deal with their issues, too.
“The family becomes the victim,” Rinehart said. “The behavior becomes directed at them, whether it’s harm or verbal abuse.”
The support group will have featured speakers, including therapists, counselors and judges, to discuss mental, physical and emotional issues from dealing with family members with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism or cognitive disorders.
There are no set guidelines for the support group, he said, since “there is nothing like this.”
Reaction to the group from families and therapists has been overwhelmingly positive, Rinehart said.
“I kept encountering families who were lost,” he said. “We take (the mentally ill) to Sundance (Hospital) or another mental facility and our job is done. Then we’re back in two weeks. There is a definite need I’ve found.”
He hopes that the group can give the families the resources and support they need.
“I’ve been in a dark place and come out the other side,” Rinehart said. “It made me a better person and now I can help people. We want to make a difference.”
Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451
The Mansfield Police Department will hold support groups for families of the mentally ill at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month at the Public Safety Building, 1305 E. Broad St. Free. To RSVP or for more information, contact Rinehart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 817-276-4725.