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Of the many challenging situations faced by police officers, few are more difficult than responding to an individual going through a mental-illness crisis. Mental-health issues touch everyone, and one in five Canadians experience a mental-health problem at some point in their life.
Even so, “mental illness is highly stigmatized, so it’s difficult for people to ask for help,” says Associate Professor Jennifer Lavoie of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Criminology.
Lavoie is working to help police services improve the way they respond to people in mental-health crises. Along with a team of specialists, Lavoie’s research will develop a scenario-based program to teach police officers de-escalation and de-stigmatization techniques to reduce unnecessary instances of the use-of-force.
“There’s no standardized training for police, so they may have only received a couple of hours of training to manage a person in mental-health crisis and that’s woefully insufficient,” says Lavoie.
With a more accurate perspective, officers should be able to better perceive whether a situation involves imminent threat and, if not, move into de-escalation techniques that can calm the person so they can communicate with police.