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Why Escalated Mental Distress Calls Need a Social Worker on the Scene

Not all emergency calls are placed due to a crime or a medical emergency. Sometimes, people have a mental health emergency and 911 is called. First responders may include firefighters, police officers, or EMTs. While these professionals are adept at assisting with physical injuries or securing a crime scene, they are unlikely to have the skills needed to safely intervene during a mental health emergency.

Social workers, on the other hand, are trained to help people in mental distress. Ideally, they would be on the scene as needed when someone calls for help. These situations can easily get out of hand and a social worker can help assess and defuse so no one gets hurt.

How Social Workers Provide Assistance

Many 911 calls have inherent conflict associated with them, especially when they involve people who are in an escalated state of mental distress. Unfortunately, first responders don’t always know how to safely de-escalate these situations and may actually make a person in crisis more upset or even dangerous.

Social workers, on the other hand, specialize in de-escalation. Not only do they have the necessary training to help people in crisis, but they typically have the empathy and compassion needed to help resolve conflict instead of making it worse. Although many police officers are doing their best to achieve this goal, some have trouble using different tactics for people in a mental health crisis than they would in apprehending a criminal.

Instead of quickly resorting to physical restraint or violence, social workers have the ability to read the body language and verbal cues of a person in distress so they can get a read on the person and determine the best de-escalation tactic for that moment.

De-escalation can literally mean the difference between life and death. People with mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed by police officers. There is also a racial component that compounds the issue, putting Black individuals at even greater risk. Social workers can help reduce deadly clashes between people experiencing a mental health emergency and the police.

De-Escalation Skills Social Workers Use

While law enforcement officers may be used to walking right up to someone, asking questions, and demanding quick responses, social workers know that this is not the best approach for dealing with people who are in the middle of a mental health crisis. De-escalation success requires a non-confrontational method.

Social workers start de-escalations with core skills like empathy and compassion. They consider how a person experiencing a state of mental distress might feel and how they might like to be approached. They take an open, non-judgmental approach to problem-solving and they focus only on the immediate problem at hand.

Body language is also important for de-escalation. A social worker will usually stand several feet back from the person in distress to give them space and to avoid making them feel threatened or overwhelmed. They use non-threatening body language to help put the person at ease.

Social workers also know that people who are dealing with a mental health crisis may not be able to respond to questions right away. They display patience and allow the person time to respond to their questions. They keep any questions or directions as simple and clear as possible.

Finally, they use flexibility in solving the problem. What would defuse the situation and allow the social worker to provide additional help to the person in crisis? Social workers are experts in getting to the cause of the problem so they can help someone feel more grounded and cooperative.

How Social Workers Can De-Escalate Situations and Support Police Officers

Social workers can support police officers by intervening in these situations and reducing the opportunity for violence and improper incarceration. Limiting police interactions with mental health patients can be important for safety, community trust, and the wellness of the person experiencing the mental health crisis.

When someone is experiencing a stroke, EMTs are called. It makes sense that social workers, who specialize in mental health and social welfare, should be called in to work with officers on cases involving mental illness.

Overall, it is not a good use of law enforcement resources to intervene in mental health cases and can lead to tragic outcomes. Social workers can assist police officers in improving outcomes for these cases and getting people the help they really need.

Photo Credit

Image is from Pixabay

Guest Author Bio
Sarah Daren

With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.



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