Call 911 to report a mental health-related emergency. Then as long as your local police department has CIT officers and you use a well-known mental health label (such as, mentally ill, manic, schizophrenic, or suicidal), the dispatcher should notify the police to send one of those specially trained crisis intervention officers to the scene. Here are some tips to best assure that the dispatcher does send the CIT:
You can specifically ask for crisis intervention officers with mental health training. Tell the dispatcher that the person you are calling about has a diagnosed mental illness, explain what that illness is, and help prepare the officer for the scene by giving the 911 operator all of the details about the current behavior:
• Does this person have a weapon?
• Is the person athletic or trained in martial arts?
• Give facts about their size.
• At this moment, is the person delusional, depressed, hallucinating, manic, spastic, or agitated?
• Provide very quick context for any statements that the person is making.
To help make the police encounter as safe as possible for everyone present, you or someone else should go outside to flag down the police and tell them where the building entrances are and where the event is happening inside the building. Even though you told everything to the dispatcher, give a quick descriptive update to the on-scene police as soon as you can. For example,
“My bipolar thirty-year-old son, Steve, threw me down the stairs. I don’t know if he took his medicine. He is shaking all over and won’t talk to any of us.”
“My twenty-five-year-old sister, Kay, is delusional. She is pulling everything off of the shelves and throwing it on the floor. I ran next door. Nobody else is in the house with her.”
“My husband, Ed, is depressed. He locked himself in the upstairs bathroom and is crying about an old business failure. He keeps saying angry things about Bob, but Bob is long gone. There is no reason to worry about Bob.”
Once the officer begins to work the scene, stay out of the way! Do not talk unless the officer asks you a question or calls on you to say something. The CIT officers know how to interact with people suffering from specific mental disturbances; they do not need you to translate for them. All police officers are trained to stabilize situations, so even if there is not a CIT officer present you should not interfere.
If the incident is not at your house or you are not even present, you can still get some mental health background information to the 911 dispatcher who will pass it along to police and will know to get a CIT officer on the scene. How will you know about the incident if you are not there? Maybe someone called you from the scene and said “Your relative is here and he’s out of control; someone just called 911.” Maybe you just got a worrisome text message or email from your relative.
Chapter 7 of Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law is titled “When Police Are Called to Help” and deals with two types of circumstances: those involving people with mental illness as victims of crime and those in which families seek help from police during a mental health crisis. This blog post contains one small excerpt from that chapter.