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Black & Burnt Out Presents: Wellness Check....Call the Police or Nah?


Recently, I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place when I had to ask my client if they were suicidal. In those seconds before my client's answer, I questioned whether or not I was comfortable calling the police to go and do a wellness check. With the recent murder of #RayshardBrooks still fresh on my mind and last year's killing of Atatiana Jefferson, I was dreading my client's response. Seconds felt like minutes which seemed like hours but alas my client stated no. Thank you God! As a black therapist who works with predominantly black clients I was afraid that calling the police would place my client's life in danger but yet my client's life would already be in danger if they were suicidal. What to do, what to do? When the Wendy's employee called 911, they just wanted Rayshard Brooks's vehicle to be moved out of the drive-thru. That person was not expecting that their 911 call would result in a murder. Similarly, when Atatiana Jefferson's neighbor called the police they were just concerned about her well-being. Once again, there was a sense of trust that the police would do their job, not kill an innocent person. I know hindsight is 20/20 but would the neighbor and the Wendy's employee make that same call to the police again knowing the outcome? Additionally, I wonder how the neighbor and the Wendy's employee are coping with the aftermath.

From a young age, many children are told to remember their parent's phone numbers, their addresses, and 911 for safety and emergency reasons. Children of color, specifically black kids, are also taught how to positively and appropriately interact with the police for safety and emergency reasons. So what do you do when what you are taught does not align with the reality of the situation? As a mental health professional, my ethics and the law tell me what to do when I have a client who may be a danger to themselves. Yet, the reality is that police are killing black people because we are seen as a threat based on the color of our skin whereas white people are more likely to receive grace and mercy by the police (ie. Charleston, SC church shooting perpetrator Dylann Roof).

Before all of the racial unrest and protests, I've never questioned what I needed to do as a licensed therapist to ensure my client's safety and well-being. The same goes for any family member or friend that I may have been concerned about, but now the conversations that I am having with my loved ones have changed how I would move forward. Several years ago, my mother was concerned about my brother who lives several hours away. She hadn't heard from him for over 24 hours and had exhausted all options. My mom decided that the next course of action was to call the police to do a wellness check. Luckily enough it turned out that when the police knocked on my brother's door they found him fine and well. His phone had broke and he didn't consider sending an email from his laptop to inform my overprotective mother. The reality is his situation could have ended differently. The death of Atatiana Jefferson prompted many people of color to reconsider whether or not calling the police in this current climate is the right thing to do. Some friends and family members are saying not to call the police if I am worried but yet they are also not providing me with an alternative way to make sure that they are okay, especially those loved ones who are more than a 2-hour drive away. So once again, what do I do?

What would you do if your black client stated that they were suicidal? If your family is concerned about you, would you want them to call the police to do a wellness check? If not, have you created a safety plan and shared it with your loved ones? #stepstowardswellness #blackandburntout #allblacklivesmatter #blackmentalhealthmatters #blacktherapistsrock #socialwork #psychology #counselors #marriageandfamilytherapists #wellness #therapy #Rayshardbrooks #Atatianajefferson #justiceforall


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