Mental illness has long been one of the most difficult health problems to diagnose. Because so many of the symptoms are hidden from sight, it is not easy to recognize when people need help. For police officers, this assessment is often made under stressful conditions, when an individual may present a danger to themselves or others. Faced with societal stigmas against mental illness, first responders struggle to marry sensitivity and safety. 

Law enforcement agencies increase sensitivity training
An altercation with a mentally ill individual can occur at any time or in any capacity. Simply understanding what another person is going through can lead to collaborative problem solving that keeps everyone safe. To prepare for these situations, law enforcement training coordinators try to broaden each officer's empathy with the public they protect and serve. 

One of the most effective programs is Crisis Intervention Training. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this 40-hour course is designed to educate first responders to interact with people going through a mental health crisis. The lessons learned through CIT coursework are significantly deeper than the standard six hours of mental health training that police academy graduates receive. Officers participate in role-playing exercises, for example, to determine the best way to respond to certain circumstances. 

The extra preparedness improves the way law enforcement reacts to emergency calls impacted by mental illness. According to the Lodi News-Sentinel, officers are in a better position to identify mental problems, interact with family members and calm the situation at hand. 

Empathy is another tool for your belt
One outcome of sensitivity training is acquiring the skills to effectively establish a relationship with individuals suffering from mental illness. With the training, officers are better able to get to the root of the problem instead of just seeing the behavior presented, according to the Portland Press Herald. This allows them to calm the victim down without the use of force and make decisions that will decrease the chance of a future problem

"We tell people, 'This is just a tool for your tool belt,'" Devon Corpus, a social worker, told the Lodi News-Sentinel. "The training gets (officers) into the mindset of looking at situations differently. They might be more patient or cautious than they were before."

While it takes time to equip officers with this knowledge, more agencies are choosing to invest in sensitivity training. Widespread participation in programs like CIT serves to help our police force to safely interact with the different perspectives and backgrounds they are likely to encounter in the field.

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