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Mental health
issues are a huge new trend within law enforcement. One question is, how do law
enforcement officers properly respond to calls involving mentally ill persons? The
police are usually the first ones that are called to deal with mental health
crises when things escalate or get out of hand. Because of this, there is a big
push for more crisis intervention training. Crisis intervention teams are now
responsible for providing their recruits with the proper tools to handle
situations involving mentally ill persons. Another question surrounding mental
health issues in law enforcement is, how do law enforcement officers handle
their own mental health? Being a police officer is one of the most emotionally
demanding career choices a person could choose, yet police trauma is a topic
that is not discussed openly. Officers battle their own mental illnesses
silently because they fear being declared unfit for the job. There is an
increasing number of police officers that suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,
depression, and suicidal thoughts. These are issues that are being swept under
the rug but cannot be ignored any longer.  

Because the police
are expected to be able to deal directly with mentally ill persons on the
street, the development of crisis intervention teams has been crucial in giving
police officers the training that they need to respond to situations involving
persons with a mental illness, persons in a mental health crisis, persons who
have attempted suicide, or persons who are threatening suicide. Crisis
intervention teams may not always be able to respond directly to scenes, so
police officers need to be trained to handle potential situations where
mentally ill persons pose as threats to themselves or others. Crisis
intervention teams were originally developed in response to critical incidents
in which mentally ill persons were killed by law enforcement officers. With
proper training, officers can deescalate persons rather than the situation
ending with a fatality. Crisis intervention training proves itself valuable
because it gives officers more confidence when dealing with high-stress
situations such as someone threatening suicide. If officers can properly
identify and respond to mental illnesses, they may not be forced to make fatal
decisions.

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According to Finn
and Stalans (2002), “It is estimated that mental health calls account for about
5-10 percent of all calls for police service” (p. 279). It is important to
remember that when a call goes to dispatchers, dispatchers try their best to
rely as much pertinent information to the responding officers, but this may not
always include information about a suspect’s or victim’s current mental health
diagnosis or mental health conditions. This is one of the reasons why officers
need to be properly trained in identifying and responding to mental illnesses.

When an officer arrives on scene, they need to be able to quickly assess the
situation and assess any threats, as well as assessing a person’s state of mind.

These types of situations require a specialized perspective. If someone poses
as a threat to themselves or others, officers need to be able to gain control
of that person without having to call a crisis intervention team. With crisis
intervention training, officers can prevent something from going wrong more
quickly. The quicker an officer defuses a situation, the better. Quickly
managing a situation with a person suffering from severe symptoms of mental
illness ensures not just their own safety, but others’ safety as well.

It has been
debated whether crisis intervention training should be mandated or not. All
departments differ on this position. The Columbus Division of Police has
mandated crisis intervention training because of the complexity of these types
of situations. In 2016, Columbus alone had 6,114 mental health calls. This
number proves that police officers are guaranteed to come in contact with
people who are going through mental health crises. Because this number is
fairly high, police officers must learn to take a trauma informed approach to
policing. Trauma informed policing is taught by good crisis intervention teams.

Not only are
police required to deal with mentally ill persons, they are also responsible
for maintaining their own mental stability. The stress of the job can take its
toll on officers and because of this, there is an increasing number of cases of
officers developing their own mental illnesses because of accumulated trauma.

In some cases, officers attempt suicide. Cop suicide is increasingly becoming a
problem because of the emotional toll that trauma can take on someone working the
job. Unfortunately, policing has the potential to be traumatic. Whether it be
firing your duty weapon, witnessing death, or seeing a child abused by his parents,
policing can lead to major feelings of guilt or regret. One of the biggest
problems is that officers fear coming forward with their inner struggles,
because their employment may be terminated or they may be taken off the street.

There is a huge stigma within law enforcement. There is an unspoken rule that
police officers must hide their emotions, ‘stuff it down’ and move on. Law enforcement
have the tendency to carry big egos, and they tend to stack things up until a
breakdown occurs. Officers don’t want people to look down on them, so they fear
coming forward with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Because of this,
more cases of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are being
found in first responders. Flashbacks, nightmares, silence, anger, heart
palpitations, constant anxieties, brain fog, difficulty breathing, extreme
personality changes, and too many emotions all plague officers that are
suffering from PTSD. According to Code-9, “15-18%” of officers in the US have
PTSD”. Law enforcement and PTSD can be a deadly combination. According to
Code-9, “we generally have little awareness of, and offer almost no treatment
for, our police force here at home”. Lack of recognition and lack of treatment
destroy not only careers, but families as well. This darker side of law
enforcement is a topic that has not been thoroughly explored, but it is
important to stop making these officers suffer in silence. An officer’s mental
health is just as an important than their physical health.

 

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