Charleena Lyles. Alfred Olango. James Hall. These are only three out of the countless people with mental illness who have died as a result of a confrontation with law enforcement. We are only aware of their names and stories because they were picked up by the media. But hundreds of other stories of people with mental illness who have died as a result of a law enforcement confrontation never will be.
To date, 730 people have died in a law enforcement confrontation in 2017 alone. Mental illness played a role in a quarter of those incidents.
Law enforcement must now act as first responders for the nation’s mental health and addictions crisis. And yet a majority of officers are not trained on how to safely interact with people experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis, leaving both the officer and our community members vulnerable to tragedy.
We must ensure people with mental illness get the treatment and support they need. To do so, we must also equip law enforcement to properly recognize mental health challenges among their peers and in their communities.
Mental Health First Aid is a two-pronged nationwide effort that is geared towards both laypeople and law enforcement. The Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety module teaches officers how to safely deescalate a mental health crisis and who to call for support.
We also know that police officers are more likely to experience PTSD; Mental Health First Aid teaches officers how to recognize signs of a mental health challenge in their peers.
To better understand the scope of the problem, talk with different police about department-wide programs and experts about how mental health relates to law enforcement.
Talk with the Orland Park Police Department who has trained 100 percent of their sworn officers in Mental Health First Aid; the New Mexico State Police crisis team who credits Mental Health First Aid to helping stop an officer from killing himself; or a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer whose story went viral when he sat down with a suicidal teenager.
All of these police officers and departments model how Mental Health First Aid is working in real life.
It is not, and has never been, the criminal justice system’s intent to provide mental health services. Rather, the system works to ensure public safety and promote justice by deterring and diminishing criminal behavior. And only when law enforcement knows how to practice self-care, are they able to uphold the highest standards of their duty, while protecting themselves and their communities at large.
Support your communities by supporting yourself. Get trained in Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety today.