First Prescription

This blog was written by Poverty Talks! member, Sue Gwynn.  

When you see someone you love struggling with mental health, what do you do?

You try your best to help. That is human nature.

What happens when that struggle goes beyond what you can manage on your own? You call for help. That is the right answer.

Unfortunately, the right answer often leads you to the police which has been proven to be the wrong answer time and time again. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am not entering into the debate over defunding or anything like that because this is a separate, bigger, deeper, more important issue than that.

Time and time again Calgary Police Service, the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies are called to help people and families in mental health crisis situations. It’s likely the only resource we have that can arrive in a short period of time. But, at what cost? Law enforcement tends to have a singular focus - law enforcement. De-escalation and crisis intervention are what you call for but too often not what you receive.

Struggling with mental health is not a crime, needing help for a loved one who is struggling with mental health is not a crime. So why are the only resources available to law enforcement? I know there is a movement to combine law enforcement with people trained in how to deal with non-criminal mental health matters, but is that what we are actually seeing on the streets? No. At best, what we are seeing is the people with mental health issues being handcuffed, put into police cars and transported, the end of the transport may be to a hospital instead of a jail cell but locked up is locked up and nothing really feels any better about it.

The amount of manhandling, bullying, and general disregard for the human being is going through during a mental health crisis is most likely more than you or I would deal with in a lifetime. We don’t call it “mental choice” or a “behaviour crisis” because these are health conditions. The people that live with them are no more making a choice to suffer the ill effects than someone who is diagnosed with cancer. But the problem goes deeper than that. The problem that is played out nation-wide, multiple times a year on our streets is people suffering from issues with mental health conditions or crisis are shot by law enforcement and the papers report “the officers involved were not harmed.”

What is the solution? I don't know but I know that this cannot continue to happen, and I know that having a health condition should not subject you to mistreatment and even death at the hands of law enforcement and that the training we offer our officers is not coming close to managing the situation.

So for now my suggestion would be the first prescription a doctor should give when diagnosing someone with mental illness is for a bullet proof vest.