Posted on Apr. 27, 2021 by Christopher Dorch

What officers may not realize is how incredibly common mental illnesses are within the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 1 in 5 American adults live with a mental illness. To put this in perspective, in 2019, this was approximately 51.5 million adults.

The gravity of this situation is heavy, as it guarantees officers will often interact with individuals suffering from mental illnesses throughout their career. However, do note that the severity of one’s condition will range from little/no impairment to severe impairment, meaning it will not always be noticeable.

Breaking Down Mental Illness

MIMH breaks down mental illness into two categories: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI). AMI is defined as “a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder” and encompasses all recognized mental illnesses. These include: depression, anxiety, dementia, PTSD, etc., ranging from little/no impairment to moderate.

As for SMI, it is defined as “mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities” and encompasses a much smaller, though more severe subset of AMI. In being more severe, it is especially important for officers to recognize various mental illnesses and know the best methods of communication. After all, the right actions can protect the life of the responding officer, the life of the subject and the well-being of the community.

Mental Illness Training Curriculum

Due to an increase in mental health awareness—and unfortunately, incidents between the mentally ill and officers which end up as headlines—VirTra created the nationally-certified V-VICTA “Mental Illness Training: A Practical Approach” curriculum. This progressive curriculum covers multiple common mental illnesses and disorders officers must be conscious of, including:

• Anxiety
• Dementia
• Depression
• Schizophrenia
• Substance Use
• Suicide
• Traumatic Brain Injury

While this curriculum is not meant to train officers to diagnose disorders, it instead provides tools to recognize symptoms and knowledge to deploy the correct communication techniques for the situation.

In addition to symptom awareness and recognition, implementing this curriculum in training helps officers to break stigmas, show empathy and know when/how to stage medical personnel. The mental illness curriculum consists of presentations, lesson plans and corresponding scenarios, allowing officers to learn each mental illness before engaging with it in the simulator—thus learning to correctly identify mental illnesses while building connections with various subjects on-screen.

Guided by this nationally-certified curriculum, officers increase the probability of having mental illness encounters end on a positive note. Start implementing this curriculum into your training regime by contacting a VirTra specialist.

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