Occasionally, those suffering from a mental illness encounter situations that prevent them from maintaining control of how their illness impacts the. Those around the person in crisis may not know how to help in these cases. When situations escalate, the best course of action is to contact a trained professional. Previously, the only reasonable option was to contact a psychiatric doctor. Today, the best option may be to call 9-1-1.
A meta analysis studying police and mental health professionals co-responding to 9-1-1 calls, reported that between seven and 31 percent involved someone with a mental illness (Shapiro et al, 2015). That number is increasing in North America. This increase can be attributed to many factors, including a decrease in institutionalization of people with mental illness, more people with a mental illness living in the community, fewer hospitals and beds for those suffering from mental illnesses and changing mental health laws (Shapiro et al, 2015).
Because of the increase in police response to mental crises, police officers have been referred to as “society’s de facto 24/7 mental health workers”, “de facto mental health providers” and “key front-line responders in mental health emergencies” (Shapiro et at, 2015). Historically, police have not been trained to deal with mental health issues. But that is beginning to change.
There have been many ways in which law enforcement departments have approached solutionsto America’s mental health crisis, but all revolve around one of three methods (Shapiro et al, 2015). One model is the Crisis Team Intervention Model. This trains officers on how to recognize and handle someone with a mental illness (Shapiro et al, 2015). In the second model, police departments employ mental health professionals in the office or made them accessible via the phone to assist police officers when they respond to calls involving someone with a mental illness (Shapiro et al, 2015). The third model is similar to the second, but the mental health professional accompanies the police officer when responding to the call (Shapiro et al, 2015).
The third model is beginning to receive attention and because it has demonstrated successful outcomes. According to a 2015 research study, “the theory underlying these programs is that a joint response is preferable as police are specialists in handling situations that involve violence and potential injury while mental health professionals are specialists in providing mental health consultation to officers and mental health care to individuals in crisis” (Shapiro et al, 2015).
The meta analysis found that referring people in mental crisis to a mental health center or mental health professionals rather than arresting them was a more appropriate responds to aiding these people and preventing a recurring loop (Shapiro et al, 2015). They also found that teams of police and mental health professionals were able to deescalate situations and lessen violent interactions (Shapiro et al 2015). They also have a low arrest rate, a reduced amount of time at the scene and improved perception of police from those with a mental illness (Shapiro et al 2015).
The police department in Denver, Colorado has recently incorporated police and mental health professionals co-responding into their practice. They hired six mental health professionals who now accompany police officers when responding to 9-1-1 calls (Harsha, 2018). They report that in the year 2017, mental health professionals responded to almost 1,200 calls and referred a least 300 people to mental health services (Harsha, 2018). Los Angles and Seattle have already implemented this program and have seen arrests and violent interactions decrease (Harsha, 2018). This new way of approaching 9-1-1 calls is seen as “a 21st century approach to policing for 21st century problems”(Harsha, 2018).
The United States is not alone in this shift to incorporate more mental health training for police officers. The Yorkshire, England police department is now teaming up with local mental health experts to provide training to police officers (Bean, 2018). The training aims to increase police officer awareness of and ability to identify mental illnesses as well as improve communication between police and those with mental illnesses (Bean, 2018).
As Deputy Chief Constable Lisa Winward told The Press, “mental health is a frequent factor in many incidents that the police are called to, whether a person is a victim of crime, a witness, a perpetrator, or someone who is calling us as a cry for help, and it is vital that we can recognise [sic] the signs of mental ill-health and are able to obtain the best possible outcome for that person” (Bean, 2018).
Bean, D. (2018, Jan 9,). New mental health training for police officers. The Press Retrieved from http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/15816276.New_mental_health_training_for_police_officers/
Harsha, K. (2018, Jan 9,). Colorado mental health professionals now responding to 911 calls. Fox News Denver Retrieved from http://kdvr.com/2018/01/09/colorado-mental-health-professionals-now-responding-to-911-calls/
Shapiro, G., Cusi, A., Kirst, M., O’Campo, P., Nakhost, A., & Stergiopoulos, V. (2015). Co-responding police-mental health programs: A review. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 42(5), 606-620. doi:10.1007/s10488-014-0594-9