What should you do if a family member is experiencing a mental health crisis?

Who do you call if you have a family member who requires a mental health wellness check, or is presenting a safety issue to themselves or others? Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen situations where someone is having a mental health issue or crisis, 911 is called, and police show up. Instead of getting the help or treatment they need, far too many of these situations end up with the person being seriously injured or killed. This was the case last year in Rochester, New York, where Daniel Prude was having a mental health crisis in the streets, and police were called. Within mere minutes the situation was mishandled, and Daniel Prude was dead.

Scenes like Prude’s play out all too often. Even within the last few weeks, police were called on a man in a California park. A brief conversation ensued between this man and the police, and the conversation turned from calm to hostile very quickly, when the police started demanding he put his arms behind his back. In a video taken at the scene, you can clearly see that the man was struggling to understand what was going on and was attempting to ask clarifying questions. A struggle ensued, and the man was shot dead.

As far as I’m concerned, this video is a public service announcement. The truth is, we have all been trained to call 911 for any sort of crisis or incident. I’m here to tell you that if you have a loved one that suffers or struggles with mental health, the last thing you want to do is to reflexively call 911 because there is a good chance your family member may not get the help they require. There are other actions that can be taken before calling 911, and more importantly, before calling the police.

If someone close to you has a history of struggling with their mental health, you will want to establish good, solid relationships with their primary physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist. These relationships are very important to have established before the crisis happens. That way, if there is a crisis, you can call a professional who is already familiar with your family member and their history. If you build these relationships ahead of time, you will be way ahead of most people who instinctively pick up the phone and dial 911, who don’t know who is going to respond or whether or not that person has been trained in mental health.

Despite the situations I mentioned above, there have been several positive developments in the way police are responding to mental health crises. Most police stations are now implementing trained intervention teams. Here in Indianapolis, they have Crisis Intervention Teams, which is a group of clinicians and officers who have been specifically trained in mental health. This kind of collaborative response is a great step in the right direction, moving away from a law enforcement philosophy, toward a mental health wellness perspective. These intervention teams have become more and more common because we have seen these fatal situations between citizens and police far too often.

If you are in Indianapolis, I would like to provide you with a few resources:

IMPD, the Crisis Intervention Team, 317-327-3811 – Sergeant Catherine Cummings heads up this unit and would be a great person to establish a relationship with.

Marion County Sheriff Department, 317-327-1700

Mental Health America, 317-251-7575

I hope that this has been helpful to you. I pray that it will be beneficial to your family and your family member. Please do your research and reach out to the folks that I have talked about. Focus on building those relationships, so that when the time comes, your loved ones can get the help they need and avoid another tragic situation.

My name is Corey Scott. If I can be of any further help, please feel free to reach out to me.