How Crisis Intervention Training Affects the Severe Mental Illness Community

The rising importance of providing Crisis Intervention Training to our police force nationwide has become a hot topic in 2020. If you’ve spent any amount of time online, listening to the news or scrolling social media – the disturbing images and stories of police/civilian encounters gone wrong are numerous. With that being said, we’ve also witnessed firsthand how officers with the right training, knowledge, and team can result in a successful and peaceful encounter in heightened situations.

This month, we’re discussing why Crisis Intervention Training for the police force is essential and why it’s especially important in and for the mental health community. Lets dig in…

What is Crisis Intervention Training?

In a nutshell, Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) gives police officers the tools they need to intervene and de-escalate a crisis they are called in for. To date, this training has not been a built in training across the country. As a business that’s always been located in Maryland, we’ve seen the disparity between  counties that do offer the training and ones that don’t. The differences are stark. 

We’re passionate advocates of this training because of the ways we’ve seen it help situations when law enforcement is needed with individuals with severe mental illnesses. To the untrained eye, symptoms of severe mental illness can look dangerous. This can be tricky because the person showing the symptoms may look like a threat. That being said, responding with compassion and getting the person connected to the proper professional can, and often will, change a situation drastically.

How CIT can de-escalate a crisis with individuals with SMI

A few years ago, we worked with a gentleman who was in his mid-60s and was a Rastafarian. During our years of working with him, he quickly became someone whose company we enjoyed. Unfortunately, as is the nature of dealing with a SMI, there were also times where his psychosis took over. 

There were two separate instances where we were able to see how CIT either de-escalated or further triggered a situation with someone with a SMI.

In the first encounter, after performing a wellness check, it became clear that we needed to call for some type of support. Our client asked us to go away, because, to put it in his own words, “he did not want to hurt us.” We calmly agreed and in the process, he opened his door and we could see that he had thrown a knife through his wall. A tough day for him indeed! 

When the police officers in this particular county arrived at his apartment, they came accompanied with a team from their crisis center who were exceptional at talking to him. Despite needing to handcuff him, they talked him through the entire process, making sure he felt supported and informed at each step. What resulted was a calm outcome with an agreeable person who was promptly taken to the hospital for the help he needed. 

Sometime later, another situation arose that required our team to go to his apartment once again. He had moved to a different county this time around and like the previous encounter, we required support from the local police to ensure that everyone was safe. This time, our experience was much different. 

Instead of a comprehensive team, two officers arrived and deferred to us the entire time. We felt for these officers because it was clear they had no idea what to do. Questions like whether or not he was dangerous and how to proceed came up several times. Unfortunately, this situation, though handled, ended much more aggressively and with fear felt on both sides. 

The difference? Proper training and support.

Our top tips to handling a SMI crisis

So what CAN you do if you find yourself in a crisis situation where a loved one with a SMI is triggered and perhaps needing your support? Here are our top tips from decades of working with and for the SMI community:

  1. Stay calm. Take your time in these tough moments to do a lot of listening and constructive reflective responses. More often than not, the person in crisis is afraid and not wanting to make the situation worse. This may very well include needing to call in local authorities, their doctors, or other loved ones – but a calm, non-judgmental demeanor will be most effective.
  2. Develop a rapport. The golden rule applies in these situations as well:  treat the person the way you would want to be treated if you were experiencing an emergency and needed help. It’s not an inconvenience or poor use of your time. This can be the difference maker in the outcome.
  3. Be compassionate. We can’t emphasize this enough. A compassionate response can do wonders for de-escalating a heightened situation. Remember that it’s you vs. the problem and not you vs. the person. This simple mindset shift can change the way a crisis is approached and comfort an already destabilized and frightened individual.

For more resources regarding the SMI community, visit our blog at

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