By Cindy Coloma
One in five Americans has a mental illness, and many communities are unaware of the facts, symptoms and resources available to help them. This lack of understanding creates a cauldron of consequences that harm individuals and the societies themselves.
Consequences of Ignorance
Not only do taxpayers bear the cost, but issues are also woven into nearly every aspect of society. Individuals with anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder or trauma often turn to drugs and alcohol for relief and become addicted. Suicide is another tragic outcome of undiagnosed or poorly treated mental illness. Police officers who are trained that aggression and lack of compliance may require deadly force are experiencing a high number of police-related shootings and deaths on calls dealing with individuals with mental health issues.
In June 2017, Seattle police arrived at the apartment of Charleena Lyles after she reported a burglary. The mother of four struggled with mental health issues, and after a previous altercation with police was incarcerated for 12 days. Police saw that Ms. Lyles was holding a knife and behaved defiantly to their commands. Lyles was shot five times and died at the scene with three of her four children present. Family members say she was pregnant.1
Such deadly outcomes are not only a tragedy for the families, but for the community and officers as well. Police officers in such situations have a high risk of post-traumatic stress and depression themselves.
Issues are woven throughout communities, including:
- Classrooms: Across the U.S., teachers are rarely trained to the recognize signs or how to deal with mentally ill children. However, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five students will deal with the effects of mental illness.2
- First responders: Arriving at emergency situations, first responders are unable to safely administer medical attention and can be in jeopardy themselves.
- Emergency rooms: In many communities, emergency rooms (ERs) have become the default hospital for those with mental illness with the closures of mental hospitals. Yet ERs are not equipped to deal with psychiatric cases.3
- Prisons: Research shows that those with mental illnesses are filling prisons with over 355,000 incarcerated inmates in US jails and prisons.
- Homeless Communities: An estimated 100,000 homeless Americans have a mental illness.4
The problem is global as well. In low- and middle-income countries, as many as 90 percent of those who deal with mental health are not given basic mental health care.5
However, help is possible through clinical training programs.
Solutions in Training
Clinical training programs are designed to educate community professionals about mental health disorders and have been effective both domestically and abroad.
Since 2008, the National Council for Behavioral Health has used Mental Health First Aid to help more than one million people — including police officers, first responders, teachers, social workers, correctional officers, ministers and university staff — understand mental illness better. Training courses use role-playing and other simulations to demonstrate warning signs and help participants experience real-life scenarios.6
One successful example has been through crisis intervention training (CIT) in Miami-Dade County, the seventh most populous county in the US. Of its 2.7 million residents, 9.1 percent suffer from serious mental illness which equates to 192,000 adults and 55,000 children. It is the highest concentration of people with mental health issues in the country.
Seventeen years ago, Miami-Dade made 20,000 arrests and incarcerations of residents with psychiatric diagnoses annually, and every month experienced one death due to police interactions with those who have mental health needs.
Since 2010, more than 5,400 law enforcement officers have had training, and the results have changed the county. Of 71,628 calls to police for mental health emergencies, only 138 have led to arrests, and fatal shootings have dropped 90 percent. With the decline in arrests, a jail was closed saving taxpayers $12 million a year.
Such successes have led to training expansions with other professionals who encounter the people with a psychiatric diagnosis.
Hartgrove’s Clinical Training
Hartgrove Behavioral Health System has served people with mental health issues for nearly 50 years. During that time, the hospital has found the importance of serving not only its patients and their families, but also the community through various partnerships, including clinical training programs.
Hartgrove’s clinical training programs help healthcare professionals recognize and respond to mental health issues and equipping them to handle situations accordingly.
- Early detection of mental illness and intervention tools
- Signs and symptoms of specific illnesses, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addiction
- Mental health professionals in their area, local support groups, national organizations and online resources
In one year alone, Hartgrove educated over 5,000 people through more than 100 trainings. The American Hospital Association has found clinical training programs like Hartgrove’s to be an “integral part in reducing negative perceptions about people with mental illness and addictions, and those who complete training are more confident in encouraging others to seek professional help.”
Mental illness doesn’t just affect individuals, but communities as a whole. Clinical training programs offer real solutions to raise mental health awareness across the full spectrum of care providers, making our communities healthier and happier places for everyone to live.
1 Hagg, Matthew. Fatal Police Shooting of Seattle Woman Raises Mental Health Questions. nytimes.com, June 20, 2017.
2 Why Don’t Teachers Get Training on Mental Illness Disorders? KQED.org, October 19, 2016.
3 How Police Officers Are or Aren’t Trained in Mental Health. TheAtlantic.com, October 11, 2015.
4 Morris, Nathaniel P. “Care Can Make a Major Difference.” Scientific American, January 24, 2017.
5 Armstrong, Gregory; Kermode, Michelle; Raja, Shoba; Suja, Sujatha; Chandra, Prabha; Jorm, Anthony F. “A mental health training program for community health workers in India: impact on knowledge and attitudes.” International Journal of Mental Health Systems, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Published online August 5, 2011, Accessed August 15, 2017.
6 “Mental Health First Aid.” TheNationalCouncil.org, National Council for Behavioral Health, August 15, 2017.