Guest post: author Linda Flanders on Crisis Intervention


CRISIS INTERVENTION 101 In America, one in four people live with a diagnosable mental illness. Sadly, one in six of those people will have some contact with the police during their lifetime. Tragically, jails and prisons house ten times more people living with a mental illness as there are in hospitals. We want to change that. Mental illness is a brain disorder or chemical imbalance. It cares nothing for race, religion, age or gender. It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor, a brilliant mathematician or in special ed. It’s simply another form of illness or injury that affects human beings. And, a mental health crisis is a medical crisis. A person needs help. Crisis Intervention 101 gives a simple overview of mental health and the calls first responders most often are called to; reasons why a crisis can happen, and offers basic understanding about how to verbally de-escalate a crisis. These skills are taught in a common sense approach, and are appropriate for law enforcement, emergency responders, school personnel and advocates. They can also be learned by anyone. They should be learned by everyone. Used across the nation, these de-escalation steps are a change to the traditional authoritarian model. Rather than giving orders, we learn how to “actively listen.” The book uses pictures and short descriptions to show how to build a truthful and honest rapport with another person and how to offer options; allowing a person time to choose the best option under the circumstances. We all want to be understood. These are human communication skills and can be mastered by us all. Imagine the difference if we did. Imagine a world if we do. This basic book includes links to two accompanying videos. These short videos show an overview of a mental health crisis and examples of the verbal de-escalation steps in action. The book and videos are used in a crisis intervention advanced training designed specifically for rural law enforcement.The class is approved by Minnesota Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) for continuing education credits for law enforcement. It can be adapted for anyone who works with people in crisis. 50% of the proceeds from this book are donated to advocacy organizations: 25% to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) St. Croix Valley 25% to HOPE Coalition to end child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and homelessness.

Guest post:

I’ve heard it said, “When your feet are on fire, it’s a crisis. Anything else is an inconvenience.” Not necessarily true. A crisis is when we don’t have the skills to process the situation at hand. That means a crisis for a trained soldier is a lot different than a crisis for a US postal worker, or an artist, or a child. The personal training and skill-set is different, so the on-set of a crisis is different. In any personal crisis, our perceptions are distorted, our body is flooded with specific brain chemicals so our bodies feel different or nothing at all, we can’t think clearly, we can’t think of options, and we certainly cannot predict the consequence of our instantaneous reactions. In a crisis, we all need help.

Look around at our country today. One in four people lives with a diagnosable mental illness. Sixty percent of those will have some contact with the police in their lifetime. Our jails and prisons are filled with ten times more people living with a mental illness than are in hospitals getting some kind of treatment. Now don’t jump on me and say I don’t believe people should be accountable for their actions. I absolutely do! I was a cop for almost 20 years. I did put people in jail and prison. But back then we had neighborhood community mental health clinics where we could take people who we believed were in a mental health crisis. That luxury no longer exists. Mental health resources are in short supply. Certainly affordable ones. Good luck seeing a psychiatrist right away and God help you if you’re looking for a child psychiatrist. So what’s the plan? For starters, we can all learn more about mental illness, what causes it and what might trigger the onset of a crisis. And, we can learn the skills on how to verbally de-escalate a crisis. We can start helping each other early on. It’s prevention and intervention. Crisis intervention de-escalation skills can help everyone. We listen, let another person know we really (I mean REALLY) hear what they are saying, we can see they are in distress, we care that they are in crisis, can offer reasonable options under the circumstances, and then allow another person the respect of allowing them to choose one of those acceptable options. Leave the dangerous crises to first responders, but think about simpler ones, ones where we might have the skills to help when another is in crisis.

I believe strongly in crisis intervention skills. Admittedly, I have a book on Amazon on how to learn these skills, accompanied by free videos on how to use them. But hear me out before you say this is just a pitch to sell books. I’m a Crisis Intervention trained coach. It’s a great class, but it is a week long and expensive to take. Not everyone who wants to can afford to take it. Last year I trained every police officer in a rural county in a simplified version of the class that was more affordable. I designed the book, Crisis Intervention 101, for the class. I made it simple to understand, used lots of pictures, added a short fictional story as an example, and produced two videos showing the skills in action. Basically I took the core aspects of crisis intervention skills and taught them from a variety of learning styles. By the end of the year, I realized everybody needs to have these basic skills, not just first responders. That’s how the book got to be on Amazon. It’s under $10, includes the videos and half the proceeds from sales go to my local advocacy groups for mental health and violence prevention.

I also have a very personal reason for crisis intervention skills to come into the mainstream: One of the triggers for a mental illness to manifest is child abuse and neglect. I was a child abuse detective. I saw too many child victims become offenders. Once crossed over that line, from victim to perpetrator, I didn’t have much choice but to shovel them into the criminal justice system. And, now we live with the effects of that, ten times more people living with a mental illness in prison than in hospitals. Child victims should not spend their adult lives in the criminal justice system. Sadly, they do, and rightly so that many of them need to stay there to protect other people. My point is it should never have happened in the first place. (But child abuse and neglect is a whole other topic.) Mental illness is a chronic medical condition and just like with diabetes, it’s a condition that needs to be understood and managed by the one living with it. But a mental health crisis is a medical crisis, and we all need help in a crisis. With basic skills, we can jump in to help each other.

Prevention comes on the front end of any problem: we have to recognize the problem, what causes it and how to slow it down, otherwise all we can do is triage. We, the people, can learn new skills to de-escalate a low-end crisis and then practice using them with people we care about: friends, family, employees and even the guy next door.

Right now I’m working with a psychology student on Crisis Intervention 101: The College Edition, and next year, Crisis Intervention 101: The Relationship Edition. But for now it’s just the basic first edition Crisis Intervention 101 by Linda Flanders, because I don’t much like the way things are and I believe they can be better.

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