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NAMI released the following a statement from Daniel H. Gillison, Jr, CEO:
“Our hearts are with the family and loved ones of Walter Wallace, Jr. and all those who have suffered or died because of the lack of measured and humane responses to mental health crises. There needs to be a focus on de-escalation and use of nonlethal methods in these situations. As a society, we must demand better for the treatment of people with mental illness.
A mental health crisis is the only medical emergency in which we do not dispatch an ambulance and appropriately trained individuals. We would never yell commands at an individual during a heart attack and expect them to comply. Yet, a person in crisis, who is possibly experiencing a break from reality, is expected to react rationally while being confronted by officers with their weapons drawn and pointed at them.
In fact, just last year, nearly 1 in 4 people killed by law enforcement had a mental illness. The killing of Walter Wallace, Jr. is yet another in a long list of deaths of people with mental illness that could have been prevented, and it is difficult to comprehend why Walter was shot 14 times.
NAMI is resolved and continues to work towards the goal of an equitable and accessible mental health system. There is hope with the National Suicide Designation Act of 2020, which by July 2022, will establish 9-8-8 as a universal number for mental health crises and suicide prevention.
For 9-8-8 to be effective, we need communities to ensure there’s a well-trained response to calls, including mobile teams of mental health professionals who are trained at de-escalating to respond in situations like this. These teams work to establish rapport and connect someone to treatment and support. Fortunately, the new law enables states to enact fees, like those in place for 9-1-1, that can support the development of mental health services at the local level to receive and respond to crisis calls.
Additionally, we know that services must be available for these teams to connect a person to. In our report, “Divert to What? Community Services that Enhance Diversion,” we help identify types of services communities need to support people with mental illness.
NAMI calls for systematic changes to prevent these avoidable tragedies, like the death of Walter Wallace, Jr. We also call on federal, state and local elected officials to invest in mental health crisis response. No one should ever again lose their life because they are experiencing a mental health crisis and are trying to get help."
Read more: NAMI’s resolution against racism, NAMI’s statement on the impact of racial injustice. You can also view recent “Ask the Expert” webinars that discuss the intersection of race and mental health.