If your loved one has a heart attack, you call 911 and expect an ambulance and EMTs to respond. If your loved one has a mental health crisis and you call 911, police officers will respond and your loved one may be arrested or transported to an emergency department by patrol car. If the responding officers lack the skills needed to manage a mental health crisis, the situation can escalate and terrible consequences follow, traumatizing all involved. To improve responses to such situations, the city of Memphis created a Crisis Intervention Team Training Program for its officers. This program, a national model, defines mental illness as a medical issue rather than a criminal problem and encourages treatment rather than incarceration.
Thanks to Lt. Matt Isham of the Lebanon Police Department, New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and West Central Behavioral Health (WCBH), local Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training at the Lebanon Police Department was begun in 2013. With the Public Health Council’s help, our first regional CIT training was offered at Hartford’s Police Department in November, 2015. More training sessions will soon follow with even small departments able to participate. Family members are thrilled to see our local police chiefs enthusiastically embrace this training and are happy to partner with them and mental health care providers to create better outcomes for our loved ones.
The PHC supports this program as part of its priority of improving care in our communities for people living with mental illness. CIT provides law enforcement officials with 40 hours of training in various aspects of behavioral health, de-escalation techniques, and develops community, health care, and advocacy partnerships. CIT improves the safety of patrol officers, consumers, family members, and citizens within the community and reduces stigma and the need for further involvement with the criminal justice system. Because many community mental health and health care partners are involved in the training, CIT provides a forum for effective problem solving regarding the interaction between the criminal justice and mental health care system and creates the context for sustainable change. Some research into CIT suggests positive impacts in police officers knowledge, attitudes, and skills relative to people living with mental illness; and CIT training appears to increase the likelihood of referral or transport to mental health services and decrease the likelihood of arrest during encounters with individuals thought to have a behavioral disorder.
Submitted by Marjorie Matthews, Donna Stamper, and Alice Ely