How to Respond to Mental Health Crises

Police officers have become the defacto first responders to crises involving persons with mental illness.

Knowing how best to respond to these crises can:

  • prevent escalation,
  • minimize the risks for psychological and physical harm to the involved persons, law enforcement, and witnesses.

Mental health advocates need to include law enforcement officers to:

Here are some Do’s and Dont’s in responding to a person in crisis with mental illness:


  • Introduce yourself
  • Remain calm
  • Take your time
  • Be patient
  • Look over the situation
  • Continually assess the situation
  • Ask others to leave the area that are causing agitation
  • Maintain safe and comfortable distance
  • Have only one person communicate with the individual
  • Give clear specific directions
  • Be respectful
  • Offer assistance
  • Be reassuring
  • Respond to “emotional” or “feeling” content
  • Know that you are dealing with someone with an illness


  • Lose your composure
  • Get excited
  • Shout or give rapid orders
  • Startle the individual
  • Move suddenly
  • Act in anger
  • Threaten
  • Abuse
  • Deceive
  • Agree/disagree with delusions
  • Touch
  • Ridicule
  • Tease or joke
  • Whisper to others
  • Confuse the individual

From: “Law Enforcement Street Guide to Mental Illness,” this pocket manual was written by Captain Melissa Beasley and Henry Stough, retired Mental Health Authority Director, Montgomery, Alabama. Find the full manual at