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November 13, 2018

First Responders

Police officer with childThis page is designed to offer resources to law enforcement and other first responders in Idaho regarding youth with mental health concerns.  

Law enforcement officers are often asked to respond to situations involving youth.  A variety of issues can be present, including life-threatening situations such as suicide and suicide attempts or aggression toward others.  Officers often confront youth who exhibit behaviors caused by mental health issues, and they need to be able to identify these issues and address them in the most appropriate manner.  
Often, officers are not trained to recognize these disorders.  For children and youth with mental disorders, acting out is common. Many youth with mental disorders appear angry and hostile, and they may harm themselves or others.  This behavior can lead to encounters with law enforcement officers, juvenile detention, and juvenile corrections staff.  Approximately 40-60% of youth in custody have a substance abuse and/or mental disorder.  Many receive mental health care for the first time while in custody.  As a result, first responders may find themselves dealing with children/youth who are not in treatment and exhibit aggressive, hostile, or self-destructive behaviors.
In Idaho, approximately 5% of children have a Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED).  SEDs are considerably more severe than a diagnosable mental illness.  To be diagnosed with SED, the child must have impairment in functioning at home, school, or in the community.

It is estimated that 1 in 5 children/youth (20%) has a diagnosable disorder during childhood.  Based on 2005 census data, there are approximately 374,180 children/youth in Idaho (ages 0 to 17).  
That means that approximately 74,836 will have a diagnosable mental illness during their childhood, and 18,709 will have a serious emotional disorder at any given time.  Further, Idaho’s rate of suicide among young people consistently ranks in the top five states. Rates among Native American youth are significantly higher. When Idaho high-schoolers are polled, roughly 9% report having attempted suicide at least once. 

Police Pocket Guide
The Police Pocket Guide was developed from a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, with aid and guidance from Wayside Youth & Family Support Network.  The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health gave permission to adapt the Police Pocket Guide, written by Gwen Healey and Janet Hirschorn, for the State of Idaho on the condition that the authors and the sources of information and funding for the original document are recognized. 
The manual defines mental illness, parents, on-scene assessment, and other points to include mental health disorders, medications, a glossary, and resources.
Helpful Tips 
Here are some helpful strategies adapted from the Houston Police Department to provide a better understanding of how to address a situation where the person has a mental health issue:
  • Stay calm.
  • Be patient, and avoid crowding the individual.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Provide a quiet place, free of distractions and noise if possible.
  • Listen.
  • Take notes as necessary.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Double-check the information you are given by restating it.
  • Use the individual’s name.
  • Give instructions or directives one at a time so as to allow time for compliance.
(Source:  Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education).

Pictures of responders with youth


To order a police pocket guide, please contact Idaho POST at (208) 884-7250 or toll free at (866) 670-7678.