Police Need To Be Properly Trained On How To Respond To Mental Illness

Police Need To Be Properly Trained On How To Respond To Mental Illness

I struggled terribly with clinical depression for about five years, feeling absolutely hopeless and numb. I quickly became very antisocial and spent most of my middle school nights on the floor of my bedroom, sobbing, blasting music, and running a blade across my wrists and thighs. After eighth grade, I moved from Illinois to North Carolina, forced to leave everything and everyone I had ever known behind, including my boyfriend. Our relationship was pretty serious, considering our age. I was 100% in love and that took a toll on my depression and our relationship. Once I moved, I craved and expected his attention 24/7, which was obviously not humanly possible. My depression worsened and I spent every single day sobbing and cutting and contemplating suicide, even at school. Our relationship became extremely unhealthy, but I was unable to recognize that I was putting far too much weight on his shoulders. When he broke up with me, I felt like my world had been flipped upside down and I was completely and utterly alone. 

I was talking to one of my close friends from Illinois about how I was seriously considering killing myself, and being the great friend that she was, she called the police. They knocked on my door viciously and when I let them in, they scolded me for not telling someone who lived closer to me because it was inconvenient for them to have to try to find where I lived. One officer literally said the words to me: “are you a cutter?” When I responded “yes”, he asked to see my cuts and he basically looked at me as if my cuts were not deep enough to be taken seriously. All in all, they seemed disappointed to find me alive.

I googled “why mental health should be taught to officers” to find more information on the topic and the first article that popped up was about an 18-year-old, schizophrenic boy, Keith Vidal, who was shot by North Carolina officers when they were called to his house by his parents for help. The boy’s mother stated that with different police training, she feels her son would be alive (Lucas). Adequate mental health training could reduce the “misinterpretation of the intentions of the mentally ill… and ultimately make the difference between life and death” (Pauly).

Within my own experience, the officers did absolutely nothing to help. If anything, they worsened the situation. They clearly assumed that I was just seeking attention, when in reality, I had been diagnosed with depression, was taking medication for it, and meeting with a therapist weekly. They made me feel completely worthless and I was absolutely appalled that those were the people sent to “save” me. When looking at similar situations, it is absolutely clear that an overwhelming amount of officers are not fit to respond to mental illness. “Last year, the Washington Post released an analysis of the 462 police shooting deaths it counted in the United States in the first six months of 2015. The newspaper found that one-fourth of those deaths involved people ‘in the throes of emotional or mental crisis’” (Lucas).

I highly doubt that there is anyone out there that disagrees that there are serious flaws within the current law enforcement system. In fact, there is no denying it. Even those that have not experienced mental illness firsthand should consider bringing light to the alarming reality that mental health training needs to be taken much more seriously. It is not even mandatory in all states, which is an absolutely terrifying thought. Had I reacted to those officers any less calmly that day, I could be buried six feet underground.

Sources:

Lucas, Liza. "Changing How Police Respond to Mental Illness." CNN. Cable News Network, 28
Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/06/health/police-mental
health-training/>.

Pauly, Megan. "How Police Officers Are (or Aren’t) Trained in Mental Health." The Atlantic.
Atlantic Media Company, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
<http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/10/how-police-officers-are-or-aren-t-trained-in-mental-health/280485/>.

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