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Talking about mental illness

Raising awareness for mental illness starts in our community and our own homes

In my last article, I wrote about some unfortunate incidents that have been going on in our country between residents and law enforcement officers Mental Health issues; Who do we call? Instead of lives being taken, lives could be saved and people can get proper mental health treatment. I know that in some cases, there is nothing that can be done, and sometimes, sadly, life is lost as a result of crisis. This does not mean that more cannot be done to help prevent it from happening regularly.

I asked questions about what law enforcement and mental health agencies in our community are doing to work together. What kind of system, if any, do our officers have in place to help people with mental health issues in crisis? I also talked about Crisis Intervention Teams. CITs are groups who are specifically trained to respond to persons in mental crisis. The first CIT program was established in Memphis, Tennessee in 1988 after the shooting of a man living with a serious mental illness by a police officer. Since then, many more communities have followed suit by implementing a CIT program into their law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, this program is still not being used everywhere. Looking into our community, we are not one of the cities that have adopted the CIT program. While we have plenty of mental health agencies in the Grand Rapids area, there is no team that goes out on a call to assist the officer or the mentally ill resident in crisis.

One of the resources residents do have available, insured or not, is a place called Network 180, this is a community mental health authority for Kent county, specializing in mental illness, substance abuse disorders, and developmental disabilities. An individual may walk in and get care on their own or through a referral. Network 180 has healthcare professionals on staff ready to assist persons in need 24 hours a day. They will take down your information and depending on the severity of the situation, take care of you right away. If you have insurance, unless it’s an emergency situation, you will be recommended to another mental health facility for services. Other mental health facilities available in our community are Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, Forest View Hospital, and Wedgewood Christian Services, all of which have emergency contacts for crisis situations 24 hours a day. However, not everyone is aware of these services being available. A person with a mental illness may not know they have options for treatment, and coming into contact with an officer only does so much. We need to actually take the extra step and get these people to the treatment centers, and follow up with them in the community. We need everyone to be aware and willing to help loved ones with mental illness. We need our law enforcement agencies to be more aware and willing to look at these individuals differently than they do a criminal. With proper CIT training within the GRPD, Grand Rapids can achieve a safer environment for themselves and anyone else involved in a situation where mental illness is a factor.

In order to raise awareness for mental illness, it needs to be talked about. The subject needs to stop being looked at as something to be ashamed of. This starts in our homes. What we teach our children about mental illness, or what we say to them about a person with a mental disorder has an effect on how they grow and view people with mental health issues. This molds the view our society has on how to treat people with mental illness. Currently, a lot of issues are being ignored and misunderstood because of a lack of information. In some cases children are going to school and teasing other students in the classroom with a mental or developmental disorder. They see this treatment portrayed by the adults in their lives and do not see anything being done to stop it. People with mental illness will never have the chance to get better if the people around them are not aware of how to treat them. We need to be aware of what mental illness is, how it affects people and what we can do to help the people in our community get the information and the treatment they need to move forward and avoid crisis. It will take everyone, mental health workers, police officers and residents of the community working together to get past the mental health crisis our country is currently facing. My advice: talk to your children, friends and coworkers about mental illness. If you hear someone putting down another with mental health issues, talk to them, try to give them information about the disease they are bashing. Pass on the information.

Think of it as paying it forward, you may just be the one who saves a life by taking the time to help someone else become aware of what mental illness is.

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