Trigger warning: This post contains a frank discussion of suicide and suicide attempts pertaining to first responders and mental health crises calls.
As a mental health worker, I am always concerned about how first responders treat mental health concerns and crises (such as safety checks and suicide attempts). Safety checks are when law enforcement checks on someone who has been reported in danger or will possibly harm himself or others. Here in Toledo, suicide attempts are taken very seriously by emergency services. However, safety checks are of low priority.
I've worked for a few different mental health organizations and for the handful of times I've had to interact with first responders while working, they were professional, supportive, and respectful. I was very grateful for their help. However, many clients, coworkers, and community members have had experiences that differ from mine.
First Responders for Mental Health Concerns Training
Toledo, like many cities, could benefit from an increase in staff and training to its local emergency services. A lot is going on in Toledo and first responders are kept very busy.
We need more Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained police officers. CIT training is model many first responders use to help people with mental health and addiction issues access they medical treatment they need instead of getting them involved in the criminal justice system. It is a model widely used in the US.
Most of our CIT trained officers have been on the force a while and have more seniority, so they get to choose what shift they work before the others. Most prefer to work during the day, so we have a disproportionate amount of CIT officers on first shift compared to other shifts. A recent call for a client at work who was suicidal was placed on second shift, and one major concern reported by the staff and clients involved was that the officers lacked compassion.
One aspect that's really positive about Toledo's emergency services is that the 911 operators are also offered CIT training. This is crucial since they are usually the first point of contact for a person in crisis.
I think every emergency services department can benefit from more CIT training. It is so important to fight stigma and promote understanding -- especially among first responders.
First Responders for Mental Health Crises Like Suicide
Calls for a person who is suicidal in Toledo are of a low priority unless the means are readily available, such as having a gun. Suicide attempts are of high priority. When a person who is suicidal is of low priority in Toledo, they could be waiting for over an hour. EMS responds faster than the police so some people take advantage of that and say they need an ambulance.
There are advantages and disadvantages that many weigh when the police and EMS need to take a person who is suicidal to a psych unit. In the Toledo area, there is one particular hospital that many prefer to go to for psychiatric care, and if the police transport, they will take you to the hospital of your choice. However, they will take much longer to respond and they will cuff you. If an ambulance transports, they will respond much faster but can only take you to the nearest hospital.
Always Ask for Help When You Need It
Experiences vary from city to city, but it's unfortunate that sometimes you have to learn to work the system to get the services you need. Don't ever let other's experiences deter you from getting help. If you are in crisis, please don't hesitate to ask for the help you need. This article highlights the experiences where I live. Every city has its own protocol.
For those of us involved in the mental health community, it's important to stay informed and advocate for our needs to be met by our city's services.
If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section.