A front page article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (sorry, the online version is for WSJ subscribers only) describes an innovative training program for police officers in Arizona that helps them better interact with the mentally ill. According to the article, "The Justice Department estimates that about 330,000 of the nation's 2.2 million inmates are mentally ill. When released, they usually end up back in prison, in part because of a lack of outside treatment options." Or on the streets, living on grates and in alleys. Either way, law enformcement interacts with many of these folks more often than anyone else, which is why training them in effective techniques for talking to and assisting the mentally ill is smart. It keeps the officers safer, it keeps the mentally ill safer, and it keeps our communities safer.
The article warns that we can't, however, expect police officers to pick up all the slack when it comes to social services. Training them is smart; dumping the issue in their laps and walking away is foolish.
The church has a place here. We're commanded to care for the sick (Mt 25), which surely includes those struggling with mental illnesses. There are some great groups doing that in communities around the country. I used to volunteer at one in Pennsylvania, working in the kitchen a couple of weekends a year so their dedicated staff could get some time off. There are lots of other ways to get involved and make a difference. Find a local group and see how you can help!