Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training is expanding, although still not mandated in Connecticut. It prepares police officers for calls involving people in a mental health crisis, which cannot always be predicted until on scene. It teaches the skills necessary to address and recognize a crisis.
When my child was a senior in high school, he went to the library to study, and then abruptly went missing. It was completely out of character for him not to come home when expected. After hours of searching for him, his father and I went to our local police department for help. We were unaware at the time that he was suffering from a severe mental health crisis — his first.
We held an expectation that our officers were equipped to help us find our son. But the officers we met with lacked the training to ask the right questions or listen to our concerns so they could decipher a crisis was taking place.
Throughout the course of my child’s disappearance there were behaviors uncovered by his father and myself indicating just how bizarre his actions were. In vain, we repeatedly shared these concerns with our local officers. Despite our input that his behaviors were unprecedented, our officers deemed they were within the range of normal by their standards. This remained the case, notwithstanding our continued pleas to the contrary.
Tipped off by his credit card usage at a gas station more than an hour and a half from home, our local police officer suggested we reach out to state troopers in the area to locate him. And we successfully led state troopers to our child. They located him hours after the gas purchase, after midnight, on a school night, sleeping at the same gas station.
The trooper notified, not us, but instead our local police officer and based on the details shared by the officer that notified me, I knew there was something terribly wrong. I was told my son said he was out “partying with friends” and he’d make his way home soon. (I later learned he never said this.) What was being relayed was so out of bounds for his normal behavior that I questioned if it was actually our son. And if it was, I was terrified that he wouldn’t make it home.
I questioned if he was lucid or in any condition to drive. The officer told me my child was “mentally fine.” I said, “the behavior is just so unusual. I’m very concerned about leaving him. I’m afraid he’s not going to make it back here.”
And the untrained officer told me, “he’s not having a psychotic break that we can determine.” He said this although he had never received CIT training. Something that I didn’t know to question at the time.
If the officers we encountered had asked the right questions or listened to the evidence we were sharing then perhaps my child would have been brought home. Instead, after missing for more than 24 hours, in an escalating state of psychosis, he committed a crime. As a result, there is ripple effect of suffering that includes a victim and her loved ones.
If they had CIT training then perhaps my child could have received prompt treatment necessary for recovery. Instead he is languishing in the Department of Corrections. Each day moving him further from the possibility of recovery.
Mental illness is on the rise. One in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. Among young adults aged 18-25, one in three experienced a mental illness. Age 18-25 is the typical window for a first break of psychosis for a male and police officers are often called to the scene when someone is in crisis.
I believe police officers are doing their best and lean into the training they’ve received. Because they don’t choose the calls they respond to, their training needs to include and reinforce CIT.
Today, I advocate for CIT training. It is an upstream necessity to address the rise of mental illness. If it doesn’t matter to you yet, it may just be a matter of when.
Denise Paley of Guilford is an Advocate and Board Member of NAMI Shoreline and DMHAS State Advisory Board.