Online mental health: Crisis police stations can traumatize
EDITOR’S NOTE – This story includes a discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Videos are difficult to watch.
In one, a man swings off the edge of an Oklahoma City overpass, his legs swinging in the air as police grab his arms and pull him from the brink. In another, a woman hangs over the Port of Los Angeles as half a dozen officers drag her head first over the side of the bridge. The panicked voices of the cops shout: “We got you, we got you! just before they pin her to the ground and remove the handcuffs.
The short clips were posted to law enforcement’s official social media accounts, as part of a long-standing practice by law enforcement agencies to showcase their online rescue efforts – particularly in 2021 as the Desperation grows for the positive press amid accusations of excessive force and racism after the murder of George Floyd, and increasing gun violence and murders.
But with renewed focus on agents’ interactions with people with mental health issues, experts and advocates are re-examining these messages, looking to see if they are exploiting the same victims law enforcement just rescued.
“It’s like we’re going through this tragedy with them,” said Kevin Berthia, a mental health advocate who survived his own suicide attempts. “Now, how does that create trauma for no one else?” Who else does this trigger?
Posts are easy to find on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Police departments across the country can download them without the permission of the person in crisis – although their identity is withheld – without warning about the content and without consulting mental health professionals.
Debbie Plotnick, vice president of state and federal advocacy at Mental Health America, examined half a dozen from across the country.
“Yeah, they helped a person get off and that’s commendable,” she said, but added, “I don’t see that having any value in helping people’s mental health.”
While police say mental health is their priority, the images seem to tell a different story. Law enforcement has long tried to showcase the heartbreaking and dangerous work of fighting crime and saving lives, and the feeds also include officers giving birth, acts of kindness, and shows of force.
The New York City Police Department, along with footage of smiling cops, often tweet detailed captions that include the exact pier someone jumped from or the number of pills they swallowed before police officers took them. “save”. Other articles include videos of the scene.
Yet the American Association of Suicidology specifically suggests that any report on suicide or attempted suicide does not include method or location. The association recommends that photos and videos of the scene also be excluded, even if the identity of the person is withheld.
The NYPD declined requests for comment.
Some experts fear imitators, saying that such detailed articles – like the recent Los Angeles Police Department articles with body-camera footage of the woman’s attempted suicide on the bridge – essentially give vulnerable people a manual.
“Here’s a place on the bridge where it took literally six uniformed police officers to get this person back overboard,” said Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology.
The LAPD declined to comment, but said in a statement it did not have a specific policy in these cases. The agency said it goes to great lengths to protect the identity of the individual but generally does not seek permission beforehand.
In the 55-second video – posted to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram less than a month after the incident – police were called to the San Pedro Bridge after the woman was seen climbing the side. The scene is full of tension – the rushing wind, the panicked breathing of the woman, the squealing of radios echoing on the metal of the bridge, the clicking of the handcuffs.
“Great teamwork got her the help she needed,” the LAPD posts said, with a link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. “Remember you are never alone and there is always help.”
In Oklahoma City, video of the overpass posted to the police department’s Facebook page in May includes body camera footage and interviews with officers who responded. The man’s face is blurry, although the department did not ask for his permission before releasing the video.
The final clip shows the man being loaded into a police car with the text: “After rescuing the man, officers took him to hospital and began to provide assistance. he needed.” The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number follows.
Staff Sgt. Gary Knight, spokesperson for the Oklahoma City Police Department, said the goal was to show residents how the officers’ actions saved the man’s life during the two-hour incident.
“The last thing we want to do is get in the way of someone’s recovery when they’re in a crisis,” Knight said. “We’re not here to try to make someone’s condition worse. That’s why we showed up in the first place – to try to help this person.
Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said such social media posts could actually deter viewers from calling 911, lest they also be handcuffed or arrested.
“It’s too complex a problem to boil down to a video like this,” he said.
Ronnie Walker agrees. Her stepson committed suicide while a college student, prompting her to form a now international support group and online forum for other grieving families, the Alliance of Hope For Suicide Loss Survivors, based in Hawaii.
“It was truly devastating for all who knew and loved him,” she said on the 26th anniversary of her stepson’s death. “It was as if a grenade had exploded in our family and everyone was injured, each in their own way.”
Watching police stations, Walker said, could easily be traumatic for people who have lost loved ones to suicide.
“I don’t want to dismiss the heroism of the police or the fact that they have kindness in their hearts,” she said. “I just don’t see some of these videos as describing this or conveying that. It’s more sensational.
The Appleton, Wisconsin Police Department – a town of 74,000 people north of Milwaukee – has taken a different approach. They chatted for nearly a month before releasing an eight-minute suicide intervention video that was much less explicit than others in February. They also asked for permission from the man who was in crisis and his family who worked with mental health organizations.
“Is this going to be positive for our community? Is this really going to spark the conversations we want to have around mental health? Said Lt. Meghan Cash. “Or is it just a video? “
In recent years, officials who oversee so-called suicide hotspots like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York and New Jersey, have worked to install prevention or deterrence systems. .
About 30 people commit suicide each year on the Golden Gate Bridge, and more than 150 other people attempt suicide each year. Many come in contact with the 36 members of the Bridge Patrol – whose captain, David Rivera, hopes new conversations about mental health, like Simone Biles’ talks at the Olympics, will encourage people to seek help. .
Rivera’s department does not publicly publish about the suicidal interventions, and instead chooses to privately honor its members and others who may have been involved in the rescues, such as bridgeworkers, road workers, or police officers. other police services.
“We can recognize them and write a commendation,” Rivera said.
Mental health advocate Berthia went to the bridge in 2005 with the intention of ending her own life. His over-the-railing encounter with a California Highway Patrol officer was captured in a photograph published on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. The photo haunted him for years.
“It brought me back to the day,” Berthia said. “It brought me back to the present moment. It brought me back to the wind and the smell. “
Today, Berthia speaks nationally about suicide prevention and says there is still a long way to go when it comes to mental health awareness. Yet his message to people in crisis is hopeful.
“I need you here,” he said, “I need you here. So please call or contact us, do whatever you need to do.
Associated Press video reporters Angie Wang in Atlanta and Haven Daley in San Francisco contributed to this report.