Employees handling mental health emergencies, Pittsburgh City Council trying to help

PITTSBURGH — A rising number of employees in different industries have been running into unexpected situations where they have to help people who come into their workplace and are experiencing mental health issues.

When you look at the scope of workers working in food service or retail across the city, many are young.

“A lot of our employees are people who are 18 or 19 years old, getting a theatre degree at Point Park University. Then they are asked, on top of their normal jobs, to deal with customers who are having a mental health crisis. They might be under the influence,” said Tori Tambellini who’s a Former Market Square Starbucks Employee.

Tambellini has seen these situations firsthand.

“There was a customer in the restroom screaming and I had to stop making drinks and go assist the person who was having a mental health crisis in our restroom, and I had to assist them and I wasn’t sure what to do,” Tambellini said.

It’s a question that service industry workers across the city are looking to answer.

“The people who work in the coffee shops or restaurants in your neighborhood have become an informal safety net for some of the people in our neighborhoods who are experiencing mental health crises, addiction crises,” said Deborah Gross who represents District 7 for Pittsburgh City Council.

It’s a new frontline that needs the tools to help. Gross is working to create a crisis support program that will provide de-escalation techniques and Narcan training.

“Some of the restaurants I represent have already done this through nonprofit partners there’s just not enough,” Gross said.

While the city council figures out the logistics of how to offer this training whether it’s by community or business by business, people like Tambellini are already on board.

“It’s definitely scary there are customers who can get physically violent and threaten us and we need better ways to de-escalate it in the moment and then resources to follow up with afterwards,” Tambellini said.

The hope is the city’s first responders who are already trained in these techniques will be to assist and teach. Gross told Channel 11 these are programs the city is already doing it’s just matching the resources to the right people.

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