I came across an interest Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread today. The person conducting it is a Community Development specialist. He designs programs to help police officers deal with people with mental illnesses.
His name is Scotty and he had this to say about training police officers:
"This is a great question. I am very upfront about making sure officers know that they're not expected to be clinicians. In fact, I always tell them I don't care if they can tell the difference between bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, etc. my wife's a mental health therapist (in training) and if can take her months before she's willing to make a form diagnosis."
"All I care about is that the officers can say, 'okay this guy isn't just being a jackass or trying to lie to me -- he has a mental illness.' At that point we give them a set of small changes to their response that will improve their interaction no matter the diagnosis. But it is surprising how little some officers know about mental illness so we try to cover the most important signs and symptoms of the more common disorders."
If police officers were better prepared to handle a mental health crisis, it could save a lot of lives. Some people may not be lucid enough to tell the officer how they are feeling. They need to learn to recognize the signs of a panic attack, a psychotic episode, and other mental health emergencies.
Police officers are also likely to be frustrated, tired, and in a rush. They need to learn to chill out and focus on helping the person who is sick.
The police also need to be able to tell the difference between an organic (mental-illness related) or a drug-induced psychosis. Scotty said:
"Drug-induced psychosis tends to involve more paranoia/suspicion, visual hallucinations, and risk for aggression. However, this isn't always the case."
"Organic psychosis tends to have a different trajectory of illness and, overall, appear much more like social withdrawal and depression than the wild-eyed, crazy person that the media portrays."
"It gets tough when the two combine, and, unfortunately, is it extremely common for folks with an organic illness to use substances. Often, in my experience, the folks who engage with the police more often are those who have both mental illness and substance abuse happening."