The Very Real Mental Health Crisis

The Very Real Mental Health Crisis

LCCA Staff, Writer/Reporter

We have a crisis on our hands, and as a society, we need to do something about it. There is a mental health crisis, here in America and 43.8 billion people suffer from episodes each year. The number is staggering. Yet, there is still this terrible stigma attached to mental illness that keeps people from seeking treatment. Untreated illness like this causes problems in many areas of life. People with untreated mental illness are 16times more likely to be killed by law enforcement.

According to BMC Psychiatry, “Persons with serious mental illness constitute 17.0% of the use of force cases and 20.2% of suspects injured in police interaction in sample cities.” In layman’s terms, there is a serious issue with people who suffer from mental illness becoming injured or even dying from encounters with the police. We want to be clear, our intention for this article is not to place blame on the police, but to shed light on an issue that plagues our community.

There are more people annually placed in jails/prisons than there are placed in mental health facilities. America has so many resources available, we should not allow this to continue. It can’t be suitable for any of the parties involved. But what do we do? How do we create change? How do we de-stigmatize mental illness? How do we allocate funds to the areas of society that need it the most such as mentally ill people?

Limited resources

Unfortunately, many cities in Louisiana do not have the funding for mental health care.  An excerpt taken from explains:

Louisiana spends less on mental health care, per capita, than 43 other states. In the absence of state investment, police are often the first responders for people facing a mental health crisis. But while police are increasingly tasked with providing mental health crisis intervention services, department training, policies, and resources often fail to match this reality. New reporting from | The Times-Picayune’s Jonathan Bullington tells the story of Preston Thornton, a U.S. Army veteran whose call to the Department of Veterans Affairs Crisis Line ended in his death and a deputy’s injury. Thornton’s story illustrates the costs of placing law enforcement officers in the role of mental health crisis responders without providing them with training or resources adequate [to] the task.

We know that is an issue here in Lake Charles. We spoke with the Chief of the LCPD, Chief Caldwell, and asked him some serious questions about the situation here in regard to their limited options in helping citizens they come in contact with who are in the midst of a mental health crisis.  At the moment, when a person experiences a mental health crisis, the only options are to take the person to Memorial hospital or to jail. We also spoke with Kelli Stawecki, who manages the food pantry and homeless program at Waters Edge Church. We asked her if a person is experiencing a mental health emergency here in Lake Charles, and what resources are available to them. She responded, “Sadly, there isn’t anything. If they’re having a crisis, we send them to the emergency room. Our mental health system is broken.”

The Story of Miles Hall

Miles Hall was a 23-year-old who was shot to death by police officers during a domestic incident in Walnut Creek California on June 2, 1019. When Miles graduated from high school, his parents noticed his illness, and Miles was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder which caused him to have episodes that he wouldn’t be able to control. On June 2, Miles was having a mental health breakdown which caused Miles to have psychotic actions. Miles’ Mother, Taun Hall, was with Miles when this scenario was happening. Taun Hall reacted by calling Walnut Creek Police Department on the 911 hotline, letting them know Miles was experiencing a mental health crisis and needed help. Miles was beginning to get violent because sensed he wasn’t in the right state of mind, but he couldn’t control how he thought or acted. The Halls partnered with the police for two years to protect Miles because they knew that there were dangers to what things like this could lead too, but without making much effort to avoid or de-escalate the situation, the Walnut Creek police responded with lethal force.  

Miles was shot and killed by the Walnut Creek Police that day, but his death has spread awareness of this growing problem. Miles Hall’s death was unnecessary and unwarranted. Right after Miles passed, the Halls went into action and created the Miles Hall foundation. The Hall family is determined to make a positive change out of the tragedy that is Miles’ death. Mental illness is real and prevalent, and Miles’s friends and family are determined to create a difference. 

Life After Miles and the Miles Hall Foundation 

After Miles Hall died, his mother Taun Hall spent years trying to get justice for the death of her son but does not believe the 4 million dollars awarded to the family was enough. The officers involved in the shooting of her son have never faced any charges related to Miles’ death. When speaking to ABC7 news in 2020, “The settlement is not justice for Miles, there’s no justice here today, we will find justice when we find other opportunities and other ways that our loved ones can get help and they don’t have to call the police,” said Taun Hall, mother of Miles Hall. 

In her attempt to find peace after her son’s death, she began The Miles Hall Foundation, which promotes initiatives that will save lives and will protect those affected by mental illness. They now have a phone number for if a mental breakdown happens and the phone number 9-8-8. The phone number is also for suicide prevention and immediate localized emergency response for individuals in a mental health crisis by training people who know how to put up with people with mental health. Miles Hall Foundation is to help other people who have mental health crises. Taun Hall made the foundation because she felt that it could help stop killing people with mental health issues because they are having a crisis. Even if she did not get justice for her son Miles Hall, nothing would stop her from moving forward with justice or without justice.     

Training Police to Manage Mental Health Crisis  

It is important that police train to help people with mental illness because there are so many negative interactions between them. According to Officer C. Dion, it is important because you need to know how to approach them and just calm them down. One tool she uses is what she calls verbal judo. Verbal judo is a technique that can be used in schools, by police, while talking with people on 911 calls, and even in the healthcare system. It is a way to communicate with people where the ultimate goal is to de-escalate stressful situations.  

Even though police officers like Officer Dion spend a lot of time in training to help them deal with people who suffer from mental illness, more state funding should be applied to each department so they can receive more training to help reduce negative interactions with the public. 

During our interview, Officer Dion told us a story about an interaction with the public that has stuck with her over the years. She says it is interactions like these that keep her going. She had gone on a disturbance call and met a young lady who had a track record of causing a disturbance. It was obvious this woman had a drug problem and needed help. She was able to take her to the hospital and left her there hoping for the best. Several months later, she was going through a fast food line at a local restaurant, and the woman recognized her and thanked her for her help. It was because of Officer Dion’s positive interaction this woman went through rehab and finally got her life together. Officer Dion recalled, “I didn’t even recognize her.”  

It is stories like this that never make the news because it doesn’t create a sensation. Police all over the US build relationships and foster a healthy community for everyone. They just need the resources to do their job. 

The C.A.H.O.O.T.S Model

The C.A.H.O.O.T.S  Model stands for crisis assistance helping out on the streets. This model crisis-intervention program was created in 1989 as a collaboration between the White Bird Clinic and the city of Eugene, Oregon. Its mission is to improve the city’s response to mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness. The C.A.H.O.O.T.S team is contacted by police dispatchers. If a person calls the non-emergency police line or 911 in the cities of Eugene or Spring Field, you can request C.A.H.O.O.T.S’ services for a broad range of problems, including mental health crises, intoxication, minor medical needs, and more. Dispatchers also route certain police and EMS calls to the C.A.H.O.O.T.S team if they determine that is appropriate. For example, if an individual is feeling suicidal and they cut themselves, the police need to determine if the situation is medical or psychiatric. Obviously, if it is both, C.A.H.O.O.T.S teams are more equipped to address both, and C.A.H.O.O.T.S teams are equipped to address all mental issues. 

Hope for the Future

As you can see, there is no one person or entity to blame. There is a lack of funding for programs needed to support our police and our citizens who need it the most. But all hope is not lost. We look at interactions like those between Officer Dion and the citizens in Lake Charles and know we have amazing police out there who care about the people they serve. We hope that the world would have more positive outcomes when it comes to the police coming in contact with people with mental illness. To make that happen we need to take a stand and tell our governments, Federal, State, and City that we believe this issue is a priority and we want to take care of our society.