STANLY COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Monarch's Mental Health First Aid Program is preparing public safety professionals in Stanly County to deal with people who suffer from a mental illness. Monarch received a grant to conduct training for about 300 people in the county.
Stanly is the first county in North Carolina where all emergency crews took the training. It's an eight-hour course that is very interactive. It teaches the officers to deal with suspects who could be suicidal, have panic attacks, psychotic and are depressed.
"Hopefully this training will tear down some of those stigmas," Monarch Facilitator Michael Smith said. "And dispel those stigmas. Give these people the courage and opportunity to seek out that help they need so they can live a fulfilling life."
National Alliance on Mental Health says 1 in 4 adults, and 1 in 5 young people, will experience a mental illness in a given year. A report from the Treatment for Advocacy Center and the National Sheriff's Association shows at least half of the people shot and killed by police each year in America have mental problems.
The Center for Problem Oriented Policing did research and found officers averaged six encounters with a mentally ill person per month and 92 percent of officers had a least one experience with a mentally ill person.
"Mental illness is probably one of the most silent voices in this country," Smith said. "Not many people show due respect, as far as I am concerned to individuals who have been diagnosed with mental illness."
The training tells officers to assess for risk of suicide or self harm, listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance, and encourage professional help and self help. Sometime officers have a hard time using these tactics.
"The police," Monarch Facilitator Lavictor Talbert said. "They are on a time regimented call and we are trying to tell them Hey, slow down, assess the situation, listen non judgmentally- so we can make sure that everybody, including the police officers, are safe."
Stanly County Sheriff George T. Burris likes the training. He believes it makes a difference.
"When you've got the training," the Sheriff said. "You've got more confidence. We can know how to deal with different situations, cause people are different at every call we go to."
Burris encourages his deputies to use the training.
"You can't be so law enforcement minded," Burris said. "That you forget these other sort of skills you do need on the streets."
Matt Newton wished officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department who encountered his brother in 2012 had some training to deal with mental illness.
"Every life is valuable," Newton said. "Should be treated with dignity and respect and that is across the board."
Newton's brother, Clay McCall, was acting bizarre when police arrived. He suffered from a mental illness. A counselor on the scene offered to help, but McCall refused. Police tried to restrain him and that's when police say McCall charged at them with a pair of shears. That's when police shot and killed McCall. Newton thinks if all the officers had training to deal with the mentally ill, things may have turned out differently. Newton says his brother was mental not criminal.
"The more officers that have that type of training," Newton said. "The better that they can handle those encounters and potentially the more lives that can be saved."
Monarch wants to train more officers and emergency responders. It also wants to expand its reach and include offering the training in the Stanly County Schools.
"Anytime you can get the training," the Sheriff said. "And a specialized training on how to treat people better, more professional, more proactive, more positive - it's got to be the best interest of the county."
The training is offered to police departments in the Charlotte area, but many believe the training should be mandatory.