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BREAKDOWN: The Frontline Response to the Mental Health Crisis

The crisis grew quietly, across both sides of the Red River for the better part of a decade. Mental health resources, like in-patient psychiatric care, outpatient counseling, and access to affordable prescription medicine were drying up, just as record numbers of people were being diagnosed with severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia. As a result, local police officers and paramedics were getting called daily to serve as “street psychologists” for a growing number of people suffering from psychiatric emergencies. As the number of those encounters grew, local emergency rooms like LSU Health Shreveport found themselves flooded with mental health patients brought in by first responders. Adding to the problem, police officers and paramedics admittedly lacked the training to deal with those suffering from mental illness. Then in 2020, the crisis exploded across television screens and became headline news when three men, all suffering psychotic episodes, died following violent encounters with Bossier City and Shreveport police officers. In the wake of the tragedies, one local police force and fire department took action, becoming the first agencies to make plans to provide their entire staff with mental health training, while another police department largely refused to openly address the problem.

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