Mental health training for first responders is essential to enable them to serve the public and to maintain their own personal mental health. First responders and police officers are expected to handle each situation they encounter on the job with professionalism and diligence. While they receive extensive training on how to care for injured or distressed individuals physically, many people are unaware of the mental health crisis training that frontline workers undergo.
Find out how first responders train to handle mental health crisis calls, what the result of crisis intervention team (CIT) training is and how it impacts the future of mental health support.
Training Programs and Funding for Response to Mental Health Calls
For first responders to receive the training that they need to properly handle a mental health crisis situation, these programs need sufficient funding. One such initiative in San Mateo County, California, recently saw the local County Sheriff’s Office receive $350,000 in federal funding. This monetary support for the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Training Program helps first responders acquire the knowledge they need to de-escalate a situation in which someone is having a psychiatric emergency. The program out of San Mateo is the only one of its kind certified by the California Peace Officers Standard & Training.
These training programs help improve public safety and place a heavy focus on coming to a resolution.
Why Do First Responders Need Mental Health Crisis Training?
Mental health training for first responders is crucial. First responders are required to handle whatever situation is taking place when they arrive on the scene of a 911 call. In many cases, this means addressing mental health crises where people with mental health conditions may be a danger to themselves or others. In the United States, almost 60% of adults didn’t receive any help for their mental health condition within the last year. However, anxiety is extremely prevalent, with 40 million Americans experiencing some type of anxiety disorder. More than 16 million suffer from depression, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
Crime scenes and other emergency situations that warrant a 911 call frequently involve an individual who’s living with some form of mental illness. In the United States, 10.2 million adults experience co-occurring mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction. It’s also important to note that 24% of state prisoners have a recent history of mental illness. When mental health conditions aren’t recognized and properly addressed by first responders, individuals may end up being prosecuted rather than getting the help they need.
When first responders receive mental health crisis training, they’re more capable of recognizing when a mental health condition may be present. This informs and changes how they approach a situation and what care or services they give the person.
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What Skills Do First Responders Learn for Handling Mental Health Crises?
Failing to recognize and treat a mental illness at an accident or emergency scene can have deadly consequences. In 2018, 1,000 people in the United States were fatally shot by police officers, and 25% of them had a mental illness. The importance of crisis intervention team (CIT) training can’t be overstated; the specialized police curriculum reduces the chances of serious injuries or death during interactions between first responders and people in crisis.
CIT was originally developed in response to a crisis situation in Memphis, Tennessee. According to this CIT program, there are three components to the training. The first requirement is 40 hours of training for police officers as part of police-based specialized police response. This includes responding to dispatch emergency calls and coordinating with local mental health resources as necessary.
The second component of the Memphis CIT training model requires training for first responders to recognize codes from dispatch operators so they can identify when an emergency situation has a high probability of involving people with mental illness (PMI). Providing first responders with the skills to recognize the potential for a PMI on the scene is critical to establishing the level of force that should be used to handle the situation and alerts responders that officers with CIT training are part of the crisis response team.
The third component in the Memphis CIT training model is for officers and mental health systems to have a coordinated response that teaches first responders where to bring an individual with mental illness for crisis support. These facilities are used as a pre-jail stop to help divert the individual into the civil treatment system rather than a criminal arrest.
What Are the Results of Crisis Intervention Team Training Programs?
A 2019 journal article discusses the concerns surrounding the CIT training model and that the widespread adoption of this method, rather than exploring other options, could cause some key areas of crisis response to be overlooked. The journal also touches on the issue of diverting PMIs from jail into civil treatment and the potential strain this could place on other aspects of the mental health system, despite the fact that it helps free up police budgets.
However, research shows that police officers who receive CIT training demonstrate reduced stigma towards mental health, improving crisis outcomes. CIT police training programs result in officers better gauging their use of force in an emergency situation, with those who are CIT trained more likely to negotiate and work toward bringing the individual to a mental health facility.
Overall, studies suggest that crisis responder teams who undergo CIT training are less likely to arrest PMIs than those who don’t receive this specialized crisis intervention training.
A Positive Step Toward Destigmatizing Mental Health
Providing mental health training for first responders reduces the stigma around such disorders. When first responders receive CIT training and develop empathy and understanding for individuals living with mental illness, they achieve better outcomes for individuals and society as a whole. As the conversation about mental health and available treatment options becomes more commonplace, it reduces the stigma surrounding mental illness.
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