When looking to start a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) class or continue CIT education for your agency you must continue to utilize a collaborative approach. You must reach out to the advocates and providers in your community. This is not a simple or easy task, be prepared to hold lots of meetings and have face-to-face communications. We often are asked how to start collaboration or find consumers that can help with collaborations. We always suggest checking with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in your area first. NAMI is a great organization that can help with setting up programs and finding speakers and advocates in your area.
Having people living with a mental illness, consumers, as part of your class is crucial. Having consumers as part of a class can offer a unique opportunity to develop empathy towards people living with a mental illness. This may be the first opportunity for officers to see someone living with a mental illness that is not in crisis. The interaction between students and consumer presenters is often a game changer when it comes to perceptions.
What if you do not have a local NAMI chapter in your area? Look to the service provider(s) that you utilize for mental health treatment. Ask the clinic, hospital, or crisis center who they recommend you connect with. They may have peer advocates that are on staff who can help with a presentation or insight for the training.
You should not stray away from using people who are living with mental illness in your training program. This can be the first step to collaboration with consumers. Don’t forget that people living with an illness may need to take time off if their illness flares up. You must be considerate of the people and stress the importance of self-care. If you were sick you would not go to work, so don’t expect someone else to either.
I am only talking about a brief part of the collaboration that is needed for a successful CIT program. You must take in to account the internal needs of your organization but do not over look the external needs and wants from your community. Consumer perspectives and assistance is crucial to break down stigmas and open the conversation on mental health in any successful CIT training program.
* A note on terms used. Consumer and peer are terms used by people living with a mental illness to describe themselves. Consumer is a term that is widely used in literature but peer seems to be a term more utilized by people living with a mental illness to describe themselves. If you are uncertain on what term to use ask the person before you use an incorrect term to describe them.