Crimewatch: Austin ISD officers attend mental health training

An estimated 20 percent of school aged children have a diagnosed mental illness and Austin ISD officers say the numbers are increasing. That's why some officers recently attended a mental health training.

At the training, a recording created by a woman suffering from schizophrenia plays as AISD officers are challenged to conduct field sobriety tests on each other.

They try not to break concentration as the sound becomes more difficult to endure. They subject themselves to this to better understand what the students they protect may be experiencing.

AISD officer Wayne Sneed says, "I think the more we as police officers can understand what an individual goes through, you'll have more empathy as you're dealing with and you're more sympathetic to them."

Sneed is the mental health officer for AISD schools The position was created five years ago after officers determined mental health was a large underlying part of a student's behavior.

When a student is acting out because of an illness officers want to get them the help they need.

"Being able to identify someone who may be going through something like this it gives us a better opportunity to steer them toward the resources that possibly could help them get back on the right track," Sneed says.

In the 2013-14 school year officers responded to 478 mental health calls for services. Since then the number has steadily climbed. There were 664 calls in 2014-15 and 675 in the most recent school year.

So officers train as the likelihood they will encounter a student suffering from mental illness is becoming more likely. Leading the session are instructors who actually suffer from conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and PTSD.

"A lot of disorders mimic other things and therefore can be easily confused, but the more training and education you have, the better prepared you are to deal with someone who may be encountering or having a psychotic episode," Sneed says.

60 AISD officers participated in the training and Sneed says he relishes helping children in this role. "It's the most rewarding job I've had to have people come back to me and say Officer Sneed you saved my life."

 

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