I have been a member of a mental health subcommittee studying ways to improve services in Fairfax County, Virginia where I live. The introduction to our draft report might be useful reading for many of you. I have edited out several local references and added some key points in parenthesis.
You’ll find that much of our report contains information that I have cited in my speeches and previous blogs. You might want to compare what we are suggesting with services in your community.
Mental Health Reform: An Introduction
“Police officers have increasingly become the first responders when a citizen is in the midst of a psychiatric crisis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), up to 40% of adults who experience serious mental illness in their lifetime will come into contact with the police and the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. (1) The vast majority of these individuals will be charged with minor misdemeanor and low-level felony offenses that are a direct result of their psychiatric illnesses – the most common being trespassing or disorderly conduct.
Despite the minor nature of these crimes, encounters between persons with mental illness and the police can escalate, sometimes with tragic consequences. Nearly half of all fatal shootings by law enforcement locally and nationally involve persons with mental illnesses.