AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - First responders in the Shenandoah Valley are seeing more and more people with mental health issues.

Blue Ridge Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, is teaching first responders what to do when a mentally ill person needs help.

“We're teaching them to recognize clinical states. We're teaching them about the stigma that is associated with mental illness. We're teaching them that mental illness is an illness just like cancer is an illness,” Waynesboro Police Captain Kelly Walker, who is the coordinator for Blue Ridge CIT, said.

They’re ultimately teaching people how to communicate with those in crisis.

“What to look out for, what questions to ask, more importantly how to ask those questions,” Dustin Wright, a CIT instructor, said.

Walker says the work doesn't stop with that call.

“To actually bringing those folks to the hospital to hopefully receive mental health intervention,” Walker said.

Wright also works as a community liaison for the Valley Community Services Board, which provides services to people with mental illness, mental disabilities, and substance abuse issues.

“They are better able to recognize and respond and get them to the right resource as opposed to historically having one option which is release or go to jail,” Wright said.

According to Middle River Regional Jail, 25 to 35 percent of inmates there have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

“The truth is that there has just been an exponential growth in the number of folks that we're bringing in both on a voluntary basis and also when we have to execute emergency custody,” Walker said.

Recognizing the need, the Blue Ridge CIT responded by getting a grant for a state-sanctioned therapeutic assessment site at Augusta Health.

Wright says there is still a gap in mental health services. Valley CSB is partnering with other agencies to try to address it.

“Our community is in need and has been in need of a crisis stabilization unit as well as a detox center,” Wright said.

Right now, there are really just two options: staying at the hospital for inpatient services, or therapy.

Wright says this doesn't meet the needs of people who are somewhere in between.

“They have an acute crisis, a very serious crisis, at the same time they're still able to keep themselves safe,” Wright said.

Now, the research and search for funding continues with one objective in mind.

“Getting people into the services that they need to live a happy, normal life,” Walker said.