What is Mental Illness?

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that can alter a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, relationships and daily functioning. Like diabetes or heart disease, mental illness is a medical condition that can result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Sometimes the inability to cope can lead to a mental health crisis. Warning signs that someone is experiencing a mental health crisis can include:

  • Severe emotional distress such as uncontrollable crying or anger
  • Thoughts of suicide or wanting harm oneself
  • Thoughts of harm to others
  • Physical aggression or threats to others
  • Refusal of psychiatric or medical care because of impaired judgment

When someone is in a mental health crisis, it is difficult for family members, co-workers or friends. The police are often the first responders in a mental health crisis.  Fortunately, many police departments have CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) programs that offer officers who are specially trained to assist persons with mental illness in crisis.

CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) programs are local initiatives designed to improve the way the police and the community respond to people experiencing mental health crises. They are built on strong partnerships between law enforcement, mental health provider agencies and individuals and families affected by mental illness. Mental health crises are stressful for all parties involved, but calling for a CIT officer can get the person the help they need.

For more information about CIT or mental illness contact the Alliance on Mental Illness – NAMI St. Louis HELPline: 314-962-4670 or visit