What You Need to Know When Working With Individuals with Mental Illnesses

National Police Training
April 8, 2013 — 1,282 views  
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Law enforcement officers come across many dangerous situations and different kinds of people. A good portion of the calls that a Law Enforcement Officer has to respond to involves individuals with mental illnesses. While not all individuals with mental illnesses are violent, there are some who are definitely more violent. That is why it is important for police officers to be able to identify this distinction and control the situation accordingly. While communicating with such individuals, using the right approach is very essential for a police officer.

Responsibility of a Law Enforcement Officer

It is the responsibility of the Law Enforcement Officer to handle the situation involving a mentally ill person tactfully and responsibly. The officer is not only responsible for sheltering the welfare and safety of the public; He should also protect every citizen who is disabled, including those with mental illnesses.

If the Law Enforcement Officer realizes that the mentally ill person can harm himself or others, the officer can take a number of steps to control the situation. Firstly, he can ask for a backup officer especially if the person has to be taken into custody. He must also maintain a calm situation and reassure the individual that he is not alone. Communicate with the mentally ill person by showing concern, being truthful, and avoiding topics that might cause the individual to feel threatened or get agitated.

What You Should Understand About the Mentally Ill Person

Most subjects who are considered mentally ill or emotionally disturbed may actually be dangerous because they are under the influence of a substance or chemical. It is important to be truthful when dealing with the subject as they may withdraw from communicating with the officers if they become aware of deception.

Understand That Not All Mentally Ill Patients Are Dangerous

Most people regard all individuals with mental illness to be dangerous and a threat to society as a whole. This is not true because even the most recent statistical data shows that when it comes to being violent, mentally ill individuals and the general public are both equally prone to it. But, law enforcement officers should be able to identify the mentally ill individuals who have the tendency to become violent and they should handle the situation accordingly.

Use of Force

Law enforcement officers must remember that use of force is not the right approach in every case. Firstly, in any given situation, officers must first assess the state of the subject. Once they have assessed the subject’s status, they can either formally arrest or hospitalize the individual, or conduct an informal disposition. Techniques that use force may not necessarily have the same effect on individuals who are mentally disturbed as it does on rational people.

Important Points to Remember

Although the mental status of the subject does not change the force continuum, law enforcement officers must consider this status while deciding their approach. This is to reduce any chances of the subject getting violent. Once the subject with mental illness has been controlled, officers must consider if using common restraint methods will prove to be too risky for the subject because of his or her mental condition.

When providing force training, trainers must include tactical issues that deal with a mentally ill or an emotionally disturbed person. Once force is used, if the subject displays any sign or complains of illness or injury, the officer must ensure that medical response is immediately provided to the individual.

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