One of my most heartfelt and pressing concerns in the realm of suicide prevention is the intersection of the police with Black and Brown adoptees dealing with suicidal ideation or attempts. Many Black people do not trust police. Many police are not trained to deal with mental illness, though mental illness could be a factor in up to half of all police shootings.
So when a Black or Brown adoptee is experiencing a suicidal crisis, calling 911 might not be at all the best option.
There could be some hope on the horizon.
The 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or texts to 741741 are solid resources. Use them, share them.
Currently, when a person is in crisis, many folks dial 911, regardless of whether any crime is being committed. The police may be called to an emotionally fraught situation with someone who is considering suicide, and police may or may not be the appropriate source of help, for many reasons.
Christian Hall, an adoptee from China, on December 30, 2020, was killed by Pennsylvania state troopers who had been called when he was reportedly suicidal and had what appeared to be a firearm. His adoptive parents have sued the police, looking for accountability, transparency, and more mental health services. From the article “A year after police killed Christian Hall, his parents continue calls for accountability”:
“The challenge of finding mental health care is a common one for Asian American adoptees, particularly those living outside urban centers, said Kimberly Langrehr, a Chicago-based psychologist and Asian American adoptee herself.
“They are living in a world that really knows little about adoption, is heavily misinformed about race and unfortunately also has a stunted understanding of mental health,” she said.
Hall’s parents hope his story brings awareness to gaps in culturally competent mental health resources for Asian American adoptees, as well as the importance of mental health training for law enforcement officers.”
One new resource here in the U.S. will be available in mid-July: a 988 line, as opposed to 911. The idea is to send mobile crisis response teams, including trained mental health professionals, to folks in crisis, with the goal of not involving armed police.
The calls will still go via the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The 988 number, though, is easier to remember, and will avoid a (perhaps unnecessary) call to 911/police. That could make Black and Brown folks feel less worried about police involvement in time of a mental health crisis.
However, the effectiveness of 988 depends on the individual state. Here in Washington state, where I live, the implementation of the 988 program is going well. In other states, that may not be at all the case. A Reuters article says this:
“Few states have resources such as mobile crisis teams in place to respond to calls for help. Statewide crisis services are available or are being ramped up in Virginia, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado, according to the National Association of Mental Health.
“In some places, you’re probably in good shape,” said Hannah Wesolowski, a spokesperson for NAMI, the national mental health advocacy nonprofit. “You could call 988 and there are going to be mobile crisis teams and a pretty robust crisis infrastructure. But in other places, good luck.”
And that, to me, is a tragedy. Access for some folks (such as adoptees, and especially in rural areas) to mental health services may continue to be limited, including suicide crisis intervention.
Talking about suicide is difficult, and connecting it with trauma and adoption is complicated. In my next post (Part 2 of 2), I will share some steps for advocacy on suicide prevention, especially in our adoption community.
Meanwhile, here are a few resources:
The Newport Institute has several articles about young people and mental health: “The Effect of Stress on College Students.” “Looking for ‘Likes’: Teens and Social Media Addiction,” “The Effects of Suicidal Attempts on Family Dynamics,” and more.
National Institute for Mental Health Research-UK: “Adopted children can experience lasting mental health problems.”
Befrienders Worldwide operates in 32 countries to provide emotional support in times of crisis, including around suicide.
“The Last Person on Earth A mother considers her son’s final thoughts and a type of suicide we don’t fully understand,” from 2018, by Melissa Fay Greene, an adoptive parent.