Counselors, Cops Narrowly Avert Tragedy

Cell tower climber highlights mental health crisis needs

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There were signs, of course, but people often ignore signs until something happens.

He appeared stressed that day, although things looked up. The family might have found an apartment in Payson, so he could take the job he had been offered, and his sick baby could breathe better in the mountain air.

So they all relaxed outside of their friends’ Main Street home, de-stressing in the sunlight.

But then came the call that turned the afternoon into an apt demonstration of how the sheriff’s office and Rim Guidance Center collaborate through a crisis and after.

The phone rang, and a man told Camn Boal that this apartment would not work out either. Boal started drinking beer, although his wife says he had not drunk in a year, and the booze didn’t mix well with the cocktail of pills he took for his bipolar mood disorder, or the morphine for his back pain.

“He lost it. He snapped. He didn’t know what he was doing,” said Boal’s wife, Michelle Williams-Boal.

So, shortly before 3 p.m. on June 2, Boal began climbing the nearby communications tower, intending to kill himself. Police quickly arrived.

Situations like these affect the whole community, said Nanci Stone, vice president of Rim Guidance Center. It’s a public and personal safety issue.

It also thrusts into the public view the issue of mental health — a problem that affects millions of Americans, yet normally unfolds in a stigmatized secret.

After a three-hour standoff, crisis teams talked Boal off the tower. He jumped from about 10 feet up and broke his ankle when he landed, said family friend Cori Henneman, whose house the Boals were visiting.

During situations like these, the police handle safety. Payson Police Department responded with officers and its own crisis negotiators. Generally, therapists or other personnel from Rim Guidance can talk with family members or the person causing the situation. Police can also call Rim Guidance if they need counseling or a mental health evaluation for a jail inmate.

Stone says that the number of people seeking help from Rim Guidance has nearly doubled since she arrived in 2004. In November of that year, the organization had 744 “consumers.” Now, it has more than 1,400. She attributed the increase to both higher visibility and greater need.

The collaboration between agencies makes both better, Stone said. Stone said.

“We rely on their expertise,” Stone said of police, “to tell us when it’s safe, and then we do what we do.”

After a trip to the hospital and a short stay in the Globe jail, Boal is now recovering in a Casa Grande mental health facility.

Personnel from the sheriff’s office and Rim Guidance Center worked feverishly to give Boal the opportunity for recovery, and the county is not pressing charges right now, said Gila County Sheriff’s Office Lt. William Carlson.

He and another lieutenant looked through Boal’s file to make sure he was safe to release, and a man from Rim Guidance worked two straight days to find a facility to take the man.

“This is a perfect example of the communication between (Sheriff) John Armer and the mental health services community,” Carlson said.

This is one way the relationship can unfold, although Carlson said, “it can go so many ways.”

Carlson recently presented Rim Guidance Center with two letters of appreciation for the agency’s collaboration with the sheriff’s office.

Had this relationship between the sheriff’s office and Rim Guidance not been so rich, Carlson said Boal would have likely stayed in jail, stuck in the system.

“They’re trying to establish a system down in Globe that’s as efficient as ours up here,” Carlson said.

Communication has not always been so integrated. Eight or nine years ago, there was none. “Everyone was out for their own self,” Carlson said, “just like the old west.”

Finally, during a series of meetings, officials from all the departments sat down and worked it out.

Collaboration has increased, as well as the number of resources. However, gaps still exist.

Rim Guidance runs Round Valley Residential, which offers group counseling and medication monitoring for people with severe mental illness. The organization also offers many outpatient services, including an Empowerment Center with support groups and socializing. They offer preventative services, group and individual counseling.

Stone said the area needs transitional housing, which she would like to start.

However, there is no place where a person with a psychiatric crisis can stay, although Stone said the need isn’t high enough to build one.

The only place for Boal, locally, was jail. “Where else can you keep a person that wants to hurt himself or hurt others?” Carlson asked.

This is little consolation to Henneman. “I begged the officers. I begged them. If you put him in jail, you’re going to have to put him in serious suicide watch. They didn’t really seem to care what any of us had to say.”

Boal has six children — one of whom wears a ventilator to breathe at night — and has been out of work since January. The family has been living in the Valley, but wants to move back to Payson. The baby breathes better here, and Boal found a job.

Williams-Boal said two landlords told the family they could rent apartments, but both changed their minds at the last minute because of either Boal’s criminal record, which includes DUIs and disorderly conduct, or because they didn’t want to stuff the large family into a small apartment.

The apartment was the family’s last hope, Williams-Boal said. “He was a devastated, anguished man who has given up.”

Gila County had the second highest suicide rate in the state in 2007, according to the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services.

About two people each day kill themselves in Arizona, and eight people try, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Males are significantly more likely to kill themselves, and violently — 57 percent of males commit suicide with firearms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Risk factors include depression, other mental disorders, and substance abuse. Exposure to suicide is also a risk factor, according to the institute.

“It’s hard to suffer from a mental illness,” said Henneman, the family friend. “The stigma that surrounds it — people will automatically label you as, ‘look, there’s the loony person. They’re not normal.’”

As passers-by gawked at Boal’s anguished frame atop the tower, Henneman said some screamed, “jump.”

Williams-Boal now worries that her husband won’t snap out of it. She worries that he’ll come home and she’ll say the wrong thing to set him off again. She worries about where she and her family are going to live.

But at least her husband is alive.

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