South Brunswick police see 30% increase in calls for mental health assistance in past six weeks

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SOUTH BRUNSWICK – South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka sounded the alarm about the increasing mental health strain in society.

“We have seen a nearly 30% increase in calls for mental health assistance in the past six weeks as compared to the same time period in 2019. The pandemic and tensions in the country have boiled over for many people and a mental health crisis is underway. These numbers are not unique to our community as I have spoken to other chiefs and hospital officials who are seeing similar issues,” Hayducka said in a prepared statement on Nov. 12.

The chief credited collaboration with mental health professionals and excellent police work with resolving some volatile situations in the past six weeks, according to the statement.

On Nov. 10 at 2:30 p.m., a counselor from Rutgers University Behavioral Health responded to a home in the Whispering Woods complex for a male whose family members believed was in a mental health crisis, according to Hayducka. The counselor spoke to the man and determined he needed to go to the hospital for further treatment. The counselor called the police and EMS to have the man transported.

South Brunswick officers responded to the home and spoke with the counselor and the man. The man appeared cooperative and agreed to go in the ambulance but suddenly changed his demeanor. He began to complain about everyone wearing masks, the election, and he didn’t trust what was going on, according to reports.

Officers explained that they wanted to get him assistance and tried to calm him down, according to the statement. After a few minutes, the man ran into the kitchen toward the counter where a knife block was located, according to reports. Officer Ryan Bartunek and Private First Class Mike Leung pursued the man as he reportedly grabbed a large knife from the wooden block, police said. Bartunek pinned the man against the counter as Leung struggled to get the knife out of the man’s left hand. Officer Jason Stonkus entered the home and assisted getting the man under control. The man was transported to an area hospital where he has been admitted for treatment, according to the statement.

“These officers made split-second decisions and used necessary force to make sure the man did not harm himself or others. In this case, a counselor was called and independently determined the man was in a mental health crisis, then called us for our assistance. The training and skills the officers used allowed this man to get the help he needed. This was excellent police work,” Hayducka said in the statement.

South Brunswick police are seeing an increase in mental health issues across all age ranges, according to the statement.

“The pandemic is taking its toll on everyone, and issues that may have previously resolved are rising to crisis levels faster,” Hayducka said in the statement.

With the holidays approaching and possibly causing additional stress, residents in need can call Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care at 732-235-5500 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

“We will work through these difficult days together, as a community and a police department,” Hayducka said in the statement.