In light of recent events involving gun violence, the media has opened a discussion about the ways that mental illness may be contributing to these horrific tragedies. After so much devastating loss of life, an increased focus has been placed on understanding ways that mental illness may motivate an individual to harm him or herself or others.
In times of crisis, law enforcement is usually the first to respond. Tasked with keeping the public safe from harm, emergency response personnel often encounter situations when emotions are running high and an individual’s behavior may seem erratic or dangerous. During these escalated scenarios, it can be difficult to communicate and reach a peaceful resolution without knowing the cause of the behavior. Often, untreated mental illness plays a role, and knowing how to detect symptoms of mental illness can help protect the distressed individual as well as the responding officer(s).
More Than a Band-Aid
Commonly referred to as Mental Health First Aid, programming designed to help individuals make the right decision in any situation involving a mental illness is critical for those individuals who are operating in the capacity of first responder. Mental health professionals tout these trainings as useful for anyone, but vital for anyone who is required to deescalate crisis on a routine basis. In communities where budget cuts have limited the amount of free or reduced cost care available for mentally ill patients in need, law enforcement may see an increase in calls for help related to psychological disturbances. Therefore, it is crucial to educate first responders so they know how to intervene and respond appropriately in these situations.
By becoming acquainted with the signs and symptoms of mental illness, individuals will be more comfortable interacting with individuals who seem distressed. By maintaining a calm presence, these first responders like police, firefighters, and EMTs will be better able to help the alarmed individual reach a calmer state themselves, and this skill can be life-saving in the event that a distressed individual may have a weapon or means to harm his or herself or others. In learning to interact with a mentally ill person appropriately, one may be better able to resolve a situation safely, and offer much-needed support in a caring, empathic way.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four people will suffer from a mental illness every year. This high prevalence of mental disorders means that police officers will frequently encounter situations where mental illness plays a role. So what do these scenarios look like? Some typical examples of how an officer may encounter a person with mental illness are briefly outlined in the following:
- Police encounter a homeless person with a mental illness who is unable to care for him or herself and is lacking basic needs (food, clothing, etc.).
- Police are called to respond to a case of abuse or neglect wherein the abused person is suffering from mental illness and is unable to advocate for him or herself.
- A person calls the police in a state of psychosis, reporting a hallucination.
- A person with a mental illness is reported as missing by a friend or family member.
- Police are contacted by a local high school to assist in deescalating a violent student who has a mental or behavioral health condition.
- Police are called when a mentally ill person is threatening to hurt him or herself or others; suicide threats are often reported to the police.
According to a peer-reviewed study conducted in Australia, there have been measurable positive results for participants who engaged in educational programming about mental illness. Some of the ways these efforts have proven to be effective in helping first responders respond to mentally ill individuals are outlined below:
- Participants gained increased knowledge of the types of community supports available to help individuals suffering from mental illness. This includes local resources such as mental health professionals, mental health clinics, crisis-response teams, and treatment centers.
- Participants learned self-help techniques that can be used to deescalate distressed individuals at the time of crisis, and as-needed in the future.
- Participants learned to identify signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illnesses.
- Participants saw a boost in confidence in their ability to help an individual who is exhibiting signs of a potential mental illness.
- Participants reported feeling an increase in mental wellness themselves.
At TrustPoint Hospital, we believe in collaborating with the resources in our community to help our neighbors receive the life-changing care they may need to overcome the symptoms of mental illness. Our treatment center is designed to assist adults and seniors in caring for both their physical rehabilitative and behavioral health needs. Contact us to learn more about the ways our inpatient and outpatient programming can help you or a loved one overcome challenging symptoms of mental illness, and build a path to a healthier, brighter future.