With new administrations comes new legislation, and one focal point of the Biden administration surrounds around the de-militarization of U.S. police forces. The ins and outs of that could be an article by itself, but part of that change involves de-escalation processes, often needed in cases involving individuals with mental health issues.
Social workers are trained in these de-escalation skills, and, especially those in the public sector, could be seeing more opportunities to provide expertise in these situations where in the past, they may have been dealt with by police who were not trained to deal with people experiencing mental health episodes.
Social work is a very vast field, and these tips and skills may not be relevant for all of those people who perform their duties in a social work capacity, but for anyone, social worker or otherwise, who has the potential to be in situations dealing with individuals having mental health episodes, here are a few ways to polish up your means of doing so.
When situations are escalated, it is almost always due to one part being impatient and refusing to hear what the other is trying to convey. Being able to show patience with an individual experiencing a mental episode, especially one that results in feelings of wanting to cause self-harm or harm to others, truly works wonders. Not only is it calming for the individual, but those people in the area feel more at peace with a patient professional than an angry cop.
Intimidation is not the recipe for helping someone down from a ledge, whether literally or metaphorically. Police do, indeed, require instruments of defense to do their jobs well, but in a U.S. climate where more and more people feel intimidated by police, especially in minority communities, even the sweetest, most understanding officer on the force can still frighten someone simply by having a uniform on.
Social workers have the ability (and should use it) to act more like a peer when interacting with someone experiencing a mental health crisis. Let them know you are there to help them and have no interest in the police coming. Maintaining non-threatening body language means maintaining a safe distance and not making any quick moves, especially towards the individual.
Individuals experiencing mental health issues are already acting with blinders on, as their illness causes the brain to act differently, so when speaking to an individual, it is important to be very clear with the message you are conveying, and very easy to understand. Rather than saying "this is your problem," help the individual realize that by clearly explaining everything regarding a given situation that required your de-escalation skills.
Ultimately, de-escalations saves lives and keeps mentally unstable individuals on treatment and not in prison. Many cities, including Eugene, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado are already incorporating measures diverting police away from situations involving individuals suffering from mental health issues. The most important figure, of course, is that less individuals are winding up in jail simply because they had a mental health episode, but as a bonus, it is also saving these jurisdictions respectable amounts of money in policing costs, which can be re-distributed to individuals in the community for things like mental health treatments!Practicing and perfecting de-escalation techniques is a win-win-win situation for social worker-society-and the individual experiencing an episode.