Shooting of mentally ill Seattle woman raises question over sensitivity of police - Sovereign Health Group
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“#SayHerName” and “Charleena’s Life Matters” read some of the placards, which protesters held in their hands as they expressed anguish over the shocking death of Charleena Lyles outside her apartment in Magnuson Park in the Sand Point neighborhood of northeast Seattle. Irate family members, friends and community activists demanded justice for Lyles, a 30-year-old African-American mother of four, who was expecting her fifth child, a media report said.

“She was battling significant mental health problems. She needed help, but they killed her,” said one of the grieving family members. Lyles’s tragic end is a classic case of society’s failure to provide care and treatment for individuals struggling with mental ailments. In this case, the police as the first responders failed to handle the mentally ill woman with caution and sensitivity.

On June 18, responding to a burglary complaint, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) dispatched two officers – Steven McNew and Jason Anderson – to investigate the case at Unit 4303 in the Brettler Family Place apartment complex, a low-income housing facility where Lyles lived with her children. The tension probably escalated when one of the officers repeated out in a high-pitched tone what was stolen. In the midst of chaos, a desperate Lyles, not knowing what to do, grabbed a kitchen knife and asked the officers to back off. Instead of opting for a less-lethal defense option such as a baton or pepper spray, the police officers fired at least five shots, killing her on the spot.

In line with the standard practice in such shooting cases, both McNew and Anderson have since been on paid administrative leave till further notice. According to Patrick Michaud, detective and spokesperson for the SPD, both the police officers have undergone crisis intervention training (CIT) to deal with people showing signs of mental illness or other crises. Michaud said that it was not clear if the officers were in a situation where they didn’t have any non-lethal options in hand.

Charleena’s case is not a one of incident in the United States. There are millions like her who battle untreated mental illnesses in addition to racial segregation and poverty, without any recourse to professional help and are vulnerable to police intervention.

Mental health stigma in African American community

The stigma surrounding mental health is a serious issue in the Black American community, as many individuals consider it a shame to speak about psychiatric conditions openly. Despite tremendous progress made over the years, instances of racism continue to impact the mental health of African Americans in a significant way. Although negative stereotypes and attitudes of rejection have considerably decreased, occurrences with measurable, adverse consequences are still being reported nationwide. According to the Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), adult Black/African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than their White counterparts.

African Americans share the same mental health concerns as the White majority, but with greater stressors due to discrimination and economic differences. As a result of the ongoing disinvestment in public mental health, there are vulnerable communities such as African Americans who not only live outside the purview of mental health care coverage, but are also uninsured for their most urgent health care needs. The 2014 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report says that although the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has helped to close the gap in uninsured individuals, about 16 percent of Black/African Americans as against 11 percent of whites were still uninsured in the year.

Sadly, for one reason or the other, the society has made it exceedingly difficult for those suffering from a mental health problem to be vocal about it. Additionally, another major reason which makes both African Americans and white Americans overlook the serious nature of mental health disorders is that the complex nature of these conditions prevents them from expressing what they are going through due to the fear of being misunderstood or ridiculed.

Way forward

Millions of Americans are affected by wide ranging mental health conditions every year. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2015, there were over 43 million people aged 18 years or older in the country – representing about 18 percent of the adult population – with any mental illness (AMI) within the previous year. In such moments, professional assistance from a trained, empathetic and licensed mental health service provider can help the suffering individual to live a healthier and more productive life.

Sovereign Health is one of the leading mental health institutions in the U.S., which provides treatment for all kinds of mental health disorders. Sovereign Health of San Clemente, California offers a variety of customized treatment options suited to treat the person holistically. Our residential mental health treatment facilities in California are among the best in the nation. Call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with one of our representatives to know about the most effective recovery programs to treat such illnesses at the earliest.

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