Responding to Persons in Crisis: A Church Security Team's Guide for Dealing with Mentally Ill People
In today's world, mental health is a subject that affects every community, including our churches. Churches are places of worship where individuals come to find comfort, fellowship, and a connection with our Lord and Savior. However, the reality is that churches, like any gathering place, may occasionally encounter situations involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. This can present unique challenges, especially for church security teams, who are tasked with maintaining peace and order while showing compassion and understanding for those involved.
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Mental Health and Church Security: A Vital Intersection
The overlap between mental health and church security is a matter of significant concern. Just as churches have a role in supporting the spiritual health of their congregations, church security teams also have a duty to ensure the physical safety of everyone who attends the church. This includes being equipped to handle situations involving individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis, a responsibility that demands a careful combination of knowledge, skills, and empathy.
We Aren't Going to Make You a Mental Health Team
The purpose of this article is not to transform church security teams into mental health experts. Instead, the aim is to provide practical advice on how to effectively respond when a mental health crisis occurs during church services or other gatherings. We will examine methods for recognizing signs of mental distress, techniques for calming tense situations, and guidelines on when to call for professional assistance. By broadening their understanding of mental health issues and learning effective response strategies, church security teams can play a critical role in creating a peaceful and welcoming environment for all church attendees.
Overview of Mental Illness and Its Manifestations
Mental illness, in its simplest terms, refers to a broad range of mental health conditions that affect a person's thinking, feeling, behavior, and mood. These conditions can include disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and many others. The manifestations of mental illness can vary greatly from one person to another and even from one day to the next in the same individual. It's important to understand that mental illnesses are genuine health conditions and not simply a result of personal weakness or a lack of faith.
Common Myths and Misconceptions about Mental Illness
Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding mental illness that can contribute to stigma and misunderstanding. For example, some people might mistakenly believe that individuals with mental illnesses are violent or dangerous, or that they can simply "snap out of it" if they try hard enough. In reality, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and mental health conditions are not something that can be overcome through willpower alone. They are complex disorders that require understanding, treatment, and support.
The Importance of Compassion and Empathy
When dealing with individuals who may be experiencing a mental health crisis, it is crucial to approach them with compassion and empathy. This means treating them with kindness and respect, even if their behavior may be challenging or difficult to understand. Remember, they are likely struggling with internal challenges that are invisible to the outside world. By approaching these situations with empathy, we can help to de-escalate tensions and create an environment where individuals feel seen, heard, and valued. This can go a long way towards preserving the peace and tranquility of our church communities.
Recognizing a Mental Health Crisis
Understanding What Constitutes a Mental Health Crisis
A mental health crisis refers to a situation in which an individual's mental or emotional state worsens rapidly, and they become incapable of managing their day-to-day life, personal care, or safety. However, a mental health crisis does not necessarily mean the person is a danger to others. It may include situations where a person is displaying extreme emotional distress or behavioral changes, such as severe depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, threatening behavior, severe disorientation or confusion, or hallucinations.
Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For
Recognizing the signs of a mental health crisis is crucial for timely and effective intervention. Some signs that someone might be in a mental health crisis can include dramatic changes in mood, withdrawal from social activities, neglect of personal hygiene, significant changes in sleeping or eating habits, feelings of hopelessness, or expressions of wanting to harm oneself or others. It's important to note that these symptoms can manifest differently depending on the individual and the specific mental health condition they are dealing with.
Differentiating Between a Mental Health Crisis and Other Disruptive Behaviors
Differentiating between a mental health crisis and other disruptive behaviors can be challenging. Not all disruptive behaviors are signs of a mental health crisis. For instance, someone might be causing a disturbance due to substance misuse, or they could be dealing with a physical health issue like a neurological disorder. It's also possible that someone might simply be upset or angry without it being a sign of a mental health crisis. That's why it's important to approach each situation with care, seeking to understand the individual's behavior in the broader context, and not jumping to conclusions. Always prioritize safety, but also strive to respond with compassion and understanding.
Approaching Individuals in Crisis
The Importance of a Calm and Non-Threatening Approach
When dealing with individuals in a mental health crisis, it is of utmost importance to approach them in a calm and non-threatening manner. High-stress situations can exacerbate symptoms and make the individual's distress worse. Keeping your own emotions in check and maintaining a calm demeanor can help create a more soothing environment and make the individual feel less threatened.
Effective communication is key when dealing with mental health crises. Here are some tips:
Active Listening: Show the individual that you are paying attention and that you care about their feelings and experiences. This can be done by making eye contact, nodding your head in understanding, and repeating back what you heard to confirm your understanding.
Clear Speech: Use simple, straightforward language. Speak in a calm and steady voice and avoid using jargon or complex terms that might confuse or frustrate the individual.
Non-Confrontational Language: Avoid arguing or disagreeing strongly, even if the individual is saying things you know to be untrue. Instead, focus on expressing understanding and offering help. When someone tells me something that I know they are imagining, I always like to say, "I understand that is what you are seeing/hearing/etc" and then I bring them back to our conversation at hand to ensure their vision does not take over.
Recognizing and Respecting Personal Space
One common symptom of a mental health crisis can be heightened sensitivity to physical proximity. It's important to respect personal space and avoid touching the person unless absolutely necessary for safety. Try to maintain a comfortable distance, ideally at least an arm's length away.
The Role of Body Language in Interactions
Body language can communicate just as much, if not more, than words. Maintain an open and non-threatening body posture. Avoid crossing your arms, standing over the person, or making sudden movements. Instead, try to stay at their level, keep your movements slow and predictable, and maintain an open posture to convey that you are there to help, not to harm.
Overview of De-escalation Techniques
De-escalation techniques are strategies used to calm down a situation or individual that is escalating towards aggression or harm. These can include:
Active Listening: Demonstrating understanding and validation of their feelings can often help calm an individual down.
Offering Help: Reassure the person you are there to help and support them, not to control or punish them.
Reframing and Redirecting: Help the individual refocus on something calming or neutral. This can help them step away from the distressing thoughts or feelings that are escalating the situation.
The Role of Patience and Timing
Patience and timing play an integral part in the de-escalation process. It's important to remember that de-escalation doesn't usually happen instantly. Be patient, and give the person time to process what's happening. Don't rush them or try to force a resolution; instead, let things unfold at their own pace while maintaining a calming presence.
When and How to Involve Others in the Situation
There might be times when additional support is needed to de-escalate a situation. This could be when the individual is not responding to de-escalation techniques, when they pose a physical threat to themselves or others, or when they are in need of medical attention. In such cases, it may be necessary to involve mental health professionals, emergency medical services, or, in some cases, the police.
When to Involve Outside Help
Understanding the Limits of a Security Team's Role and Expertise
While church security teams play a crucial role in maintaining the safety and order of the church environment, it's important to recognize the limits of their role and expertise. Church security team members are not mental health professionals, and there will be situations that require the intervention of those who are specially trained to handle mental health crises. It's important to know when a situation has escalated beyond your team's ability to handle it effectively and safely.
Guidelines for When to Call Emergency Services or a Mental Health Professional
There are several situations where it might be necessary to call for outside help:
The individual poses a clear and immediate threat to their own safety or the safety of others.
The person is not responding to de-escalation attempts and continues to escalate.
The individual has a medical condition that requires immediate attention.
The person is in clear distress and may be experiencing a severe mental health crisis such as a psychotic episode.
In these cases, it's important to call emergency services or a mental health crisis line. They have the training and resources to handle these situations effectively.
How to Convey Necessary Information to Professionals
When calling for outside help, be prepared to provide clear, concise information about the situation. This might include:
The individual's current behavior and any changes you've noticed.
Any known history of mental illness or treatment.
Any immediate safety concerns.
Anything the person has said or done that indicates what they might be feeling or thinking.
This information can help the professionals assess the situation and decide on the best course of action. It's important to stay on the line until help arrives or you are instructed otherwise.
The Importance of Debriefing and Reviewing the Incident
After a mental health crisis has been resolved, it's important to debrief and review the incident. This process involves gathering all involved parties to discuss what happened, what actions were taken, and how the situation was resolved. This is not about attributing blame, but rather about understanding the incident in detail to inform future responses. The debriefing process can help identify what worked well, where there were challenges, and how the team can improve its response in the future.
Providing Support for the Church Community After the Incident
An incident involving a mental health crisis can have a significant impact on the church community. It's essential to provide support for congregation members who may have been affected by the incident. This might involve organizing a meeting to discuss what happened, offering pastoral care or counseling, or providing resources about mental health to help the community understand the situation better.
Learning from the Incident: Opportunities for Training and Policy Improvement
Every incident is a learning opportunity. By understanding what happened, the church security team can identify areas where further training might be beneficial. This could involve additional training on mental health awareness, de-escalation techniques, or crisis intervention strategies. Similarly, reviewing the incident might also highlight areas where the church's policies and procedures could be improved or updated to better manage such situations in the future. By continuously learning and adapting, the church security team can become more effective in their crucial role of safeguarding the church community.
In my church, we do scenario training on a regular basis. From this training, we debrief and use that information to either invest in new systems for the security team or we use it as a springboard to enhance training. Debriefs have improved our team immensely.
Real World Dichotomies
Two great examples of dealing with people in crisis happened at my church while I was working the first Sunday service. In the first, I heard medical was needed in the women's restroom. I responded and found a woman on the floor of the restroom trying to catch her breath. I comforted her and began to talk to her to find out what was happening. She wouldn't talk to me at length, but it was apparent that she was having a panic attack and she mentioned she was mentally ill. We were able to comfort her until her family arrived to take care of her. She was non violent and just needed a helping hand. She was not a threat to the church or anyone else for that matter.
In stark contrast, my church had a woman come in every Sunday morning during the first service. She would walk in through a specific door, go to the women's restroom and then leave 5 minutes later while obviously casing the area. I contacted her on one occasion. She was manic and mentioned our youth pastor by name saying he was possessed by the devil and was hurting the children. She had a short fuse, so we politely escorted her out of the building and called the police. We found out who she was and learned she was on parole for child abuse and had a long history with police due to her mental illness. In this case, she is one that we are worried about doing harm to our congregants or staff.
Promoting Mental Health Awareness
The Role of the Church in Promoting Mental Health Awareness
The church has a unique role to play in promoting mental health awareness. As a community of faith, it can provide a supportive environment where people feel safe to share their experiences and challenges. Church leaders can use their platform to promote understanding of mental health issues, challenge misconceptions, and advocate for those who are struggling. By doing so, the church can contribute significantly to reducing stigma and promoting mental health well-being.
Educating the Congregation about Mental Illness and Reducing Stigma
Education is a key strategy for reducing stigma around mental illness. This can involve providing information about the realities of mental illness, dispelling common myths, and sharing stories of individuals who have experienced mental health challenges. This could take the form of educational workshops, sermons, or small group discussions. The goal is to foster an environment of understanding and acceptance where individuals feel comfortable seeking help if they are struggling.
Resources for Mental Health Support within the Community
Lastly, the church can help connect individuals with resources for mental health support within the community. This can involve providing information about local mental health services, support groups, and crisis lines. The church can also consider forming partnerships with local mental health organizations to provide resources and support directly to the congregation. By becoming a hub for mental health resources, the church can ensure that individuals who are struggling have easy access to the help they need.
Reiterating the Importance of Understanding and Properly Handling Mental Health Crises
In closing, it's essential to reiterate the importance of understanding and properly handling mental health crises. Mental health issues are a reality in our society, and the church is not immune. When individuals in our congregations experience a mental health crisis, how we respond can make a significant difference in their experience and their journey towards healing. As church security teams, it's our responsibility to ensure that we are equipped to respond with understanding, compassion, and effective strategies that prioritize both safety and care.
Encouraging Continued Learning and Training in This Area
Finally, it's crucial to encourage continued learning and training in this area. Understanding mental health and knowing how to respond to crises is not a one-time task, but an ongoing process. As we continue to learn and grow, we'll become better equipped to serve our congregations in this critical area. Let's commit to ongoing training, to seeking out resources and information, and to continually improving our response to mental health crises in our churches. Through our efforts, we can contribute to a safer, more supportive church environment for everyone.
Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ
Q: What is the purpose of a Church Security Team's Guide for Dealing with Mentally Ill People?
A: The purpose of this guide is to provide churches with information and tools to effectively respond to and handle situations involving mentally ill individuals in a crisis.
Q: How can a Church Security Team respond to a mentally ill person in crisis?
A: A Church Security Team can respond to a mentally ill person in crisis by following the guidelines outlined in this guide, which include de-escalation techniques, communication strategies, and understanding the role of law enforcement.
Q: What is the role of law enforcement in responding to mentally ill people in crisis?
A: Law enforcement plays an important role in responding to mentally ill people in crisis. They can provide support, assess the situation, and ensure the safety of everyone involved. It is crucial for Church Security Teams to have a good rapport with local law enforcement agencies.
Q: How can a Church Security Team collaborate with law enforcement during a crisis?
A: Church Security Teams can collaborate with law enforcement during a crisis by establishing a working relationship, attending trainings together, and developing communication protocols. This collaboration ensures a coordinated response and better understanding of the situation.
Q: What is crisis intervention and why is it important?
A: Crisis intervention refers to the immediate response and support provided to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. It is important because it aims to de-escalate the situation, connect individuals to appropriate resources, and ensure their safety.
Q: How can a Church Security Team receive crisis intervention training?
A: Church Security Teams can receive crisis intervention training by reaching out to local law enforcement agencies, crisis response organizations, or mental health professionals who provide such training. It is essential for teams to be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively respond to crises.
Q: What steps can a Church Security Team take to de-escalate a crisis situation?
A: To de-escalate a crisis situation, Church Security Teams can employ techniques such as active listening, maintaining a calm demeanor, using non-threatening body language, and offering reassurance and empathy. These steps can help reduce tension and anxiety.
Q: How can a Church Security Team address the needs of individuals with mental illness during a crisis?
A: Church Security Teams can address the needs of individuals with mental illness during a crisis by providing a non-judgmental and supportive environment, connecting them with mental health professionals or resources, and ensuring their safety and well-being.
Q: What should a Church Security Team do if a mentally ill person becomes a threat to others?
A: If a mentally ill person becomes a threat to others, a Church Security Team should prioritize the safety of everyone involved. They should follow established protocols, contact law enforcement if necessary, and ensure that appropriate actions are taken to mitigate the threat.
Q: How can a Church Security Team contribute to community safety when dealing with mentally ill individuals?
A: A Church Security Team can contribute to community safety by proactively engaging with individuals with mental illness, offering support and resources, and promoting a safe and inclusive environment within the church community.