Mental Health, Police, and Suicide Prevention

September is suicide awareness month and I keep thinking about something I came across recently.

As I often do when writing a blog post, I looked back at previous blog posts to see what I had written on the topic, in this case service animals.  I looked at a short blog post I wrote called “Why Service Dogs Matter.”  It was a post I’d written after seeing a video an autistic woman had put on YouTube, showing her service animal interrupting self-injurious behavior.  The person who posted it said she posted videos so that others could better understand mental illness and service dogs. I wrote about it and included a link to her video because I thought it provided a window into a world so many people don’t see or understand.  I hoped it would help inform people on why service dogs matter.  When I re-read my post, I checked if she posted any new videos.  I was shocked to learn that she was shot and killed by police. The story in the news is that the police were asked to check on her after a friend at an animal rescue foundation received a suicidal email from her asking that someone take care of her dog. The police responded. She had a knife, the officer felt threatened, and the officer shot her.

We don’t talk enough about the fact that sometimes calling the police when someone is in a mental health crisis can have tragic outcomes. When family and friends call the police, it’s because they want help.  Something is happening and they don’t know what to do.  A person they care about is doing something unsafe or saying they are going to do something unsafe, so they dial 911.  But police aren’t always adequately trained in mental illness.  I’ve had many clients who in a moment of crisis also picked up a knife, but things ended differently because someone knew how to handle the situation.  In one case, it was a police officer who slowed down, calmed down, and helped the child reach a place where he could put the knife down.  But that isn’t always what happens.  And what happened to this woman shouldn’t ever happen. I don’t have answers, just sadness.  Sadness that a person who was doing her best to make his way in a world that wasn’t always welcoming was killed by someone who was called to help him.  It shouldn’t be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way.

What Can You Do?Let's start a #RealConvo. Talking about mental health should, and could be as normal as talking about physical health.

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. Start a real conversation with those around you. There are many resources for you to better prepare yourself to notice warning signs and take action steps to help those struggling with mental illness. Take some time this month to learn about steps you can take to help someone who is in crisis.  Here are some resources to get you started.

Resources for immediate help:

Other Resources: