Kindness and compassion go a long way in supporting people with mental illness: Tom Wetzel and Denise DeBiase


Guest columnists Tom Wetzel and Denise DeBiase are certified law enforcement officials with over 60 years of combined policing experience.

Do you know anyone who has ever struggled with mental illness or experienced a psychiatric crisis? Most Americans will probably answer yes.

For the police, this “yes” goes without saying.

Between the two of us and the cops we personally served with, thousands of people in need have benefited from our care efforts.

And it should be noted that we tend to help the same clients multiple times over long periods of time, due to the complexity of people dealing with mental health issues.

What we have both seen over the years is an extraordinary level of compassion on the part of the police towards people in crisis. We are usually the first faces of professional help they see, and we have the opportunity to set the right tone for how our help will be received.

As a result, these situations are almost always resolved through kindness and patience and rarely involve physical force on the part of officers.

Officers, usually with the help of firefighters and paramedics, are essential lifelines for so many. Together, these officials put them on a path or direct them to other resources that can provide the advanced professional assistance necessary for long-term success.

Our community has great organizations working hard to help those with mental health needs. Some of them work in close coordination with the police – a classic example of community policing in action.

Many cops in our area are trained as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers through the Cuyahoga County ADAMHS Board (Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services). The director of training and education for this council and coordinator of the CIT is a wonderful and deeply committed woman named Carole Ballard.

Director Ballard regularly shares important groundbreaking information with her CIT peers; this helps reinforce the team approach that is essential in handling these types of service calls.

Additionally, the ADAMHS council offers other types of training for people who are not police officers, such as mental health first aid. It is a public education program that introduces participants to the risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses, builds understanding of their impact, and provides insight into common support systems.

Similar to CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training, mental health first aid prepares participants to interact with someone in crisis and connect them to help.

The ADAMHS Board of Directors is also involved in other programs such as Ohio MHAS Peer Support Training (Mental Health and Addiction Services) and QPR Suicide Prevention Training (Question , persuasion, referral), which teaches how to recognize the warning signs of someone in a suicidal crisis and how to refer them to help.

Many police officers are well equipped to deal with mental health interventions, thanks in part to training programs like those that the ADAMHS council offers. We are happy to add these tools of compassion and understanding to our belts of service, as they help us do our job better.

Serving someone in mental health crisis is one of the most important things a police officer can do, and our public is well served by the empathy and professionalism of their public servant guardians.

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