Sarah Gets Loud by Educating the Police

May  03 2016

Many people with schizophrenia come in contact with the police. Frequently those interactions end with a visit to the emergency room or a jail cell. Sarah Burtenshaw, a mental health worker in Hamilton, along with SSO and other partners started the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) program to provide mental health training to members of the police service.

“We found that something had to change with police’s interaction with people with mental illness. Members of the police service who have contact directly or indirectly with persons with mental illness, including front line officers, communications staff, constables and detectives, take a 40 hour comprehensive training program,” says Sarah.

SSO has been involved from the beginning, consulting on the curriculum and coming in to teach during the trainings. Officers are trained to become Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers. When a call comes in that involves members of the community who have mental illness, they are the ones who respond. They wear a CIT pin that illustrates that they have completed the training.  

“SSO plays a crucial role in our training courses,” Sarah says. “A representative comes in and talks about programs and services, gives information on schizophrenia and psychosis and talks about the struggles family members have to face. A family member also comes in to talk about their experience, providing the officers a different perspective on mental illness.”

In addition to learning about SSO, members of the police service learn de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention and take part in role play situations and scenarios including an audio simulation to demonstrate what it is like to live with psychosis. They are also able to meet mental health workers in the community who speak about the services they provide, allowing them to form relationships with the people they will work closely with in the field.

SSO believes in the importance of education to help people better understand schizophrenia and psychosis and work better with people living with mental illness. For police officers, who are often called when people are in crisis, hearing from family members who explain how difficult it is to call the police on an ill family member can be eye opening.

“I could not do this training without SSO,” Sarah says. “They bring in the connection to the family and how valuable that support is. The staff members are knowledgeable, able to answer any question from the audience. A lot of feedback we get at the end of the training is people didn’t even know there were resources like what SSO provides out there.”

Sarah gets loud by providing education. How will you #GETLOUD this Mental Health Week?