Peaceful end to Wichita incident involving suicidal man shines light on mental health response

The City of Wichita recognized the Wichita Police Department after peacefully resolving an incident Wednesday involving a suicidal man in W. Wichita.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 11:59 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The City of Wichita recognized the Wichita Police Department for peacefully resolving an incident Wednesday involving a suicidal man in a west Wichita neighborhood. A standoff lasted about seven hours and prompted a nearby elementary school to bel placed in a lockout mode.

The standoff ended after Wichita police, along with their mental healthcare partners, made the call to back away, hoping the space would allow the man to get the help he needs.

“We came to the conclusion that the presence of first responders around him was making the situation a little more critical. His demeanor changed when we were close to him and when we retreated, he was a little more calm and relaxed,” said Wichita Police Department Public spokesperson Juan Rebolledo.

The incident highlights a recent county report revealing suicide numbers are on the rise in Sedgwick County. New data from the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Coalition shows a steady increase in suicides. That increase to a rate of 21 per 100,000 people overall in the county is higher than national suicide rates.

“This is an increase from the previous year and sadly this is again the highest that we’ve seen since we started tracking this data,” said Dr. Nicole Klaus with the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Reasons for suicides vary but data shows relationships are a major factor.

“The pattern that we’ve seen over the last several years is that relationship stressors are the most commonly reported issues in younger individuals and people under age 54,” Dr. Klaus said.

With suicide numbers on the rise, those who respond to mental health calls have to be prepared.

“Our tactic is to try to slow things down to engage that person into conversation. It could be about the way they’re feeling now or could be about anything, but just to distract them from the immediate need they’re feeling to do something they can’t take back,” WPD Chief Joe Sullivan explained.

Slowing things down and talking is what Chief Sullivan says gives people that might be considering suicide the time they need to change their mind.

“As that time begins to pass, the desire to hurt or harm themselves decreases,” he said.

First responders are finding better ways to handle these situations. It’s the hope that with collaboration, police, in partnership with mental health care providers can help to prevent more suicides. When police encountered the situation Wednesday in west Wichita, officers knew things needed to be handled differently.

“Obviously the person was going through a mental health crisis but we finally just realized that our presence was only exasperating the situation,” Chief Sullivan said.

He said backing away was the best option.

“You just have to listen to all of your experts and make the best decision that you can based on the best information that you have. And in the situation (Wednesday), it worked out perfectly and now hopefully with the help of mental health professionals, this person will be able to get a new chapter in their life.”