The Intersection of Mental Health, Policing and Race in a Crisis Response
By Madonna Delfish, M.P.H.
In their 2023 APA Annual Meeting Session, Drs. Dionne Hart, Mathew Goldman, and Mrs. Taun Hall discussed the impact of law enforcement involvement in mental health crisis response situations.
Dr. Hart opened the session with a short memorial video of Miles Hall, son of Mrs. Taun Hall, a 23-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by police amid a severe mental health emergency. He was just one block away from his Walnut Creek, California home at the time. Dr. Hart contextualized the racist foundation of policing in America—its historical role in upholding the institution of slavery, racial segregation, and suppression of civil rights of Black Americans—and the contemporary over-policing of Black communities and over-involvement of law enforcement in mental health emergencies. Dr. Goldman highlighted issues surrounding mental health equity, barriers people of color face when seeking mental health, and the fact that African Americans are overrepresented recipients of mental health services in the criminal carceral system.
Mrs. Hall said she did all the right things after her son was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. "I took a NAMI course for families to learn about dealing with a loved one living with a mental illness," she said. Hall also noted that she contacted her local police department to alert them of her son's condition to ensure he would get the compassionate response and care he needed if a mental health emergency arose. However, she said, "It doesn't matter where you live or your socio-economic background because when you look at race and mental health when police get involved, it has devasting effects, as it did for Miles."
Mrs. Hall's powerful retelling of her family's loss culminated with her tireless effort to seek justice for Miles and advocate for improved mental health crisis responses. Through the Miles Hall Foundation, Mrs. Hall worked with California lawmakers to pass the Miles Hall Lifeline and Suicide Prevention Act, which aims to enhance the capacity of the 988 National Suicide Prevention Hotline and change the way mental health crises are managed. In addition, she is working with lawmakers to design and implement a plan to fund mandatory mental health crisis response units and develop the A3 Miles Hall Crisis Call Center. Dr. Goldman said these efforts are steps in the right direction to help divert those in crisis away from law enforcement interactions that are too often punitive and, unfortunately for many, fatal.
To learn more about the Miles Hall Foundation and the Miles Hall Lifeline and Suicide Prevention Act, visit: themileshallfoundation.org/ab-988.