Before You Call 911
If your loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, you should be prepared to answer the following 6 Ws before you call 911.
Where: The most important thing law enforcement can know is where you are located, don’t assume they can pick up the address location from a cellphone.
Who: Who is the person who needs help? The dispatcher will ask you the name, age, ethnicity, and what the person you are calling for is wearing. If the police are responding to a home full of people, they need to be able to quickly identify who the call for service is for.
What: Make sure you tell the officers that this is a psychiatric emergency. For example, if your loved one is hearing voices and is actively suicidal and in serious distress, make sure you tell the dispatcher.
Why: Please reiterate that this is a mental health call and share if they have a formal diagnoses.
When: Did the mental health crisis happen last night, this morning, or is it happening right now?
Weapons: Be very clear to state if there are weapons involved in the mental health crisis. If a responding officer knows there are weapons involved, this may increase urgency in response time. Please do not exaggerate or give misinformation about weapons, as this could have dangerous outcomes.
How To Prepare For Law Enforcement Arrival
If your family member or loved one is threatening to harm themselves, you, or another person OR exhibiting violent behavior then you need to call 911. You can request that police send Crisis Intervention Trained (CIT) officers who have been through extra hours of additional training on how to handle psychiatric emergencies in the community. Not all law enforcement agencies can access CIT officers from their dispatch center, but it doesn’t hurt to ask*. Below are some suggestions for how to prepare for law enforcement arrival.
- Prepare your home before police arrival by removing any items that could be used or perceived as a weapon. Turn on all the lights in your home to improve visibility and turn off all the audio (televisions, stereos) to reduce distractions.
- Try to meet the police officers outside before they interact with your loved one. Brief them on what has been going on, the emotional state of your loved one, and share helpful suggestions on what may work best for your loved one.
- Be direct and open. Do not exaggerate the situation or leave out relevant information. Be prepared to give a brief history of your loved one’s behavior.
- Give police at the scene a brief information sheet (1-2 pages), that includes a photograph of your family member, medical and psychiatric history, treatment information, and family caregiver contact information. [Click here for more details (AB 1424 historical info form link)].
- Ask the police officer or ambulance driver where your friend or relative is being taken. If the police believe that the person meets criteria (see below), they will be placed on a 5150 and transported (typically by ambulance) to a designated facility for psychiatric evaluation and treatment. The individual can be held at a designated facility for up to 72 hours.