The San Mateo Affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) extends our sympathy to the families of Errol Chang and Yanira Serrano-Garcia killed by law enforcement in San Mateo County recently.
When tragedies such as these occur, it often is because something in the mental health care system went terribly wrong. It is important to closely examine each case and determine what contributed to the tragedy. In this case, police officers served as first responders and were required to make determinations that should have been made by mental health professionals. This is often the case in communities across the country, but no matter how compassionate or well-trained police officers are, they are not mental health professionals. It is not fair to place them in that role.
NAMI has long advocated for training for first responders and dispatchers to ask callers appropriate questions that would identify the situation as involving a person with a behavioral health issue. A qualified mental health expert and negotiator should accompany law enforcement first responders in any situation that involves a mentally ill person.
Families dealing with a mental health crisis should not be fearful about calling 911. If doing so, they need to ask for a Crisis Intervention Trained officer, or a person used to dealing with persons with behavioral health issues to accompany the first responders.
ANAMI National is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI San Mateo County is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with mental illness and their families through support, education and advocacy.
For information on the resources offered through NAMI SMC, access www.namisanmateo.org or call (650) 638-0800.
Jerry Thompson, RN
President, Board of Directors, NAMI San Mateo County