Responding to Persons Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis

Responding to Persons Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis

Blog Post

IACP Immediate Past President Louis M. Dekmar made it a priority of his presidency to focus on law enforcement interactions with individuals in the community who are affected by mental illness. Through the One Mind Campaign, law enforcement agencies are declaring their commitment to improving police work involving this vulnerable population.

According to the World Health Organization, 4.4% of the global population is affected by depressive disorders, which equates to 322 million individuals.¹ Similarly, 264 million people, or 3.6% of the global population experience anxiety disorders,² and 788,000 people died as a result of suicide in 2015 across the world.³

Mental illness and other emotional or psychological crises affect people of all demographics. Often family members rely on law enforcement to interact with loved ones who need treatment. In other cases, law enforcement may respond to calls for service involving individuals affected by mental illness who are suspected of committing summary or misdemeanor offenses a criminal offense or are victims of crime themselves. Additionally, persons affected by mental illness may be a danger to themselves or others, thereby necessitating law enforcement intervention.

All too often, people affected by mental illness are ensnared in the criminal justice system, where in the United States, prisons and jails have become the nation’s largest mental health service providers.⁴

The IACP Law Enforcement Policy Center recently published updated documents to include a Model Policy, Concepts & Issues Paper, and a Need to Know document related to law enforcement officers Responding to Persons Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis. These documents recognize that some individuals are affected by chronic mental illness, while others may experience an acute crisis that arises from trauma, onset of mental illness, grief, or any other life experience that overwhelms an individual’s coping mechanisms.

Utilizing these documents, agencies can take a crucial first step to fulfill the One Mind Campaign Pledge goals to:

  1. Train officers on proper responses to persons experiencing a mental health crisis, to include Crisis Intervention Training and mental health awareness courses such as Mental Health First Aid
  2. Develop relationships between law enforcement and community mental health providers
  3. Develop and implement a model policy focused on police response to persons affected by mental illness

Even for agencies that have not officially taken the One Mind pledge, adopting a policy on this topic is a key component to ensuring an effective response to this segment of the population. To echo Immediate Past President Dekmar, local communities, public safety organizations, and mental health organizations need to go from being three separate entities to become “of one mind.”⁵ This will help law enforcement agencies best serve their communities, while keeping their officers safe.

² Ibid.
³ Ibid.
⁴ Ibid.

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