TAMPA, Fla. -- The holidays can be extremely stressful for folks suffering from mental illness.
That was part of the reason Tampa city officials, on Tuesday, wanted to publicly talk about their mental health training for officers that started this month.
“Reach out, that’s the thing. I mean, sometimes people with the biggest smile on their face are the ones that are hurting the most,” Lisa Acierno said.
She knows the many faces of mental illness. Her teenage daughter took her own life in 2017.
“A lot of times, people picture mental illness as someone sitting in the corner banging their head against the wall,” Acierno said.
Acierno said that was not the case with her daughter.
“My daughter was funny, she was a good actor. She knew how to answer the questions when the police asked, ‘are you going to harm yourself?’” Acierno said.
Acierno and other mental health advocates and professionals are helping the Tampa Police Department to better gauge people who may need help. Chief Brian Dugan said they would go over topics during a 40-hour course from December to June.
The course addresses issues like “suicide by cop” and PTSD.
“The ultimate goal is when we do send a police officer they’re going to be better trained, they’re going to be more empathetic, more compassionate and be more professional and aware of what was going on,” Chief Dugan said.
9-1-1 dispatchers will also go through 20 hours of training, but Mayor Jane Castor said this was a citywide approach to helping with the mental health crisis.
“Not just the first responders but also our service providers, the crisis center Gracepoint, and also the community itself,” Mayor Castor said.
Acierno said everyone can make a difference.
“Just check in and I mean what’s it going to hurt? [If] they’re fine, so, you checked in with a friend; wonderful,” Acierno said.