Chapter 7 of Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law is titled “When Police Are Called to Help” and deals with two types of circumstances: those involving people with mental illness as victims of crime and those in which families seek help from police during a mental health crisis. This blog post contains one small excerpt from that chapter.
When you call 911 for assistance with someone whose mental health symptoms are out of control:
1. Ask for the Crisis Intervention Team
Specifically ask for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers with mental health training. Tell the dispatcher that the person you are calling about has a diagnosed mental illness and is experiencing a mental health crisis and explain what that illness is.
2. Help prepare the police officers for the scene
Then after setting that foundation help prepare the officers for the scene by giving the 911 operator all of the details about the current behavior.
- Does this person have a weapon?
- Is the person athletic or trained in martial arts?
- Give facts about their size.
- At this moment, is the person delusional, depressed, hallucinating, manic, spastic, or agitated?
- Provide very quick context for any statements that the person is making.
3. Flag down the police officers upon arrival
To help make the police encounter as safe as possible for everyone present, you or someone else should go outside to flag down the police and tell them where the building entrances are and where the event is happening inside the building.
4. Give the on-scene police officers an update
Even though you told everything to the dispatcher, give a quick descriptive update to the on-scene police as soon as you can. For example:
- “My bipolar thirty-year-old son, Steve, threw me down the stairs. I don’t know if he took his medicine. He is shaking all over and won’t talk to any of us.”
- “My twenty-five-year-old sister, Kay, is delusional. She is pulling everything off of the shelves and throwing it on the floor. I ran next door. Nobody else is in the house with her.”
- “My husband, Ted, is depressed. He locked himself in the upstairs bathroom and is crying about an old business failure. He keeps saying angry things about Bob, but Bob is long gone. There is no reason to worry about Bob.”
5. Stay out of the way
Once the officers begin to work the scene, stay out of the way! Do not talk unless an officer asks you a question or calls on you to say something but stay close enough that the officers can communicate with you if they need to. The CIT officers know how to interact with people suffering from specific mental disturbances; they do not need you to translate for them. All police officers are trained to stabilize situations, so even if there is not a CIT officer present you should not interfere once you’ve oriented the officers to the situation.
Featured image by Davey Heuser