Law Enforcement and Mental Illness
“If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got.”
— Quote from Tony (Anthony) Robbins, American life coach,
motivational speaker, and bestselling writer.
The topic of Law Enforcement and Mental Illness is one that comes with strong emotions on both sides. However, it’s a topic that needs to be dealt with now. I’ve never been in law enforcement, but I have been a part of Emergency Services from several angles. I have worked side-by-side with different cities and their officers. I worked in Hattiesburg, MS and Petal, MS on an ambulance as an EMT-B. I have also worked in Albuquerque, NM with the homeless at a county funded detox facility. Those jobs guaranteed me working with officers from all police departments. And as my condition with Dissociative Identity Disorder deteriorated in Albuquerque, Mel and our family have dealt with law enforcement sometimes on a regular basis due to some of my behaviors.
I’m not in a position nor will I run down fellow individuals who have worked and continue to work in the field of EMS because I understand the stress, callousness and cynicism that naturally develops just to be able to survive doing that type of work. And I understand that they are police officers not social workers. Most people don’t have a clue about what is seen and experienced in that field. What I will say is this…. there has been and continues to be a lack of education surrounding mental illness. Granted sometimes the behaviors get out of hand and force is needed to keep the individual safe from themselves and others.
What I’m talking about is the lack of education and training on mental illness that officers face. Sometimes having a Crisis Team individual to go out and talk to the individual can ensure less stress on both parties. Instead of immediately handcuffing an individual when simple talking to the person first could accomplish the same goal of getting someone much needed help. I completely understand that this is not feasible with all police departments especially smaller departments, in rural areas. Additionally, budget cuts in recent years makes this task virtually impossible.
Individuals aren’t necessarily prone to violent or criminal behavior. Does it happen? Sure, it does. But blanket statements are what causes stigmas that continue to build over time. Albuquerque had just started having a Crisis Team as we were moving out of the state.
There’s nothing like hearing someone hollering at you and looking down to see red dots on your shirt and not understanding why. Just like an episode of Cops, I was told to lay in the prone position on the cold concrete. I was then held at gunpoint with the red dots moving to my head. The male officer began screaming at me because he was supposed to get off work 30 minutes prior. The female officer was talking to me in a calm voice. Fortunately, I was wearing my medic alert dog tag that I wore because of another situation. She recognized the medic alert dog tag I was wearing and read the information. I was taken to one of the local hospitals for a mental health evaluation where I was subsequently let go.
This is just one of many situations that we encountered prior to leaving the state. Before I moved to Texas and Mel and our sons moved to Mississippi a crisis team came to our house wanting to know what the best way was to help with crisis situations. We gave them the information and for once I felt like I was being heard. There are many situations that happen like the above mentioned that could be helped with just trying to find out what the crisis is about versus being accusatory. And having the Crisis Team knowing what to do to help has changed how I feel about police officers and authority figures. We have a long way to go by challenging stigmas about mental illness. But I think it’s a start.