Police expecting to tackle even more calls on mental health crises, suicide attempts

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said changing public expectations, and different service demands meant cops expected to ...
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said changing public expectations, and different service demands meant cops expected to take more mental health and suicide calls.

The Police Commissioner expects his officers will be increasingly called upon to handle mental health crises and suicide attempts.

The prediction of "non-crime" jobs using up more police time and resources was presented in Mike Bush's briefing to incoming Police Minister Paula Bennett.

His comments come in the same week that new data showed police have been forced to handle a roughly 30 per cent increase in attempted suicide call-outs in recent years.

Police responded to just over 18,000 calls coded as "threatens/attempts suicide" across the country in 2015-16, up from 14,000 in 2012-13.

Police staff taking 111 calls in communications centres are being trained to handle mental health emergencies, Assistant ...
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

Police staff taking 111 calls in communications centres are being trained to handle mental health emergencies, Assistant Commissioner Dave Cliff says.

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The briefing reinforced some themes raised in last year's police annual report, like the amount of time officers spent on a range of social ills and issues, including non-criminal investigations.

Multiple police sources have, in recent months, privately expressed frustration with the volume of mental health jobs police are being asked to handle.

Labour's police spokesman Stuart Nash said police and corrections services were "ambulances at the bottom of the cliff" and the mental health system was under unacceptable strain.

"We have a massive problem out here in our communities."

Police were too often asked to help alleviate mental health crises, without getting adequate training, he said.

In the past, too many mentally ill people were locked up, given shock treatment, and badly treated, he said.

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That discredited model was replaced with one that released huge numbers of people into the community. "But what we didn't do was put the level of support out there that was needed," Nash said.

Nash said a good alternative model was the Whatever It Takes (WIT) Trust in Hawke's Bay.

WIT provided residential community care facilities in the community, hired advocates to help the mentally ill, and operated "return to work" programmes.

This week, police assistant commissioner Dave Cliff said cops were often "first on the scene when people find themselves in difficult situations" and that included mental health crises.

"We have seen an increase in these incidents for over two decades now."

Police were working to improve training for both constabulary and communications centre staff, he said.

On Tuesday, Police Association president Chris Cahill said increases in mental health jobs were an "indictment" on New Zealand's mental health service, which left police to care for mentally unwell people. 

The Government had pledged to hire 1125 new police staff, and police had committed to a goal of ensuring 95% of Kiwis would be within 25km of patrolling officers at all times.

The Public Service Association (PSA) last month said the mental health system was "in crisis" and facing untenable workloads.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman hit back at claims of crisis, but acknowledged increasing demand was being placed on mental health and addiction services.

WHERE TO GET HELP

* Lifeline: 0800 543 354

* Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO. For those who may be thinking about suicide, or are concerned about family or friends.

* Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757

* Samaritans: 0800 726 666

* Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

* What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

* Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

* Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

* Healthline: 0800 611 116

* In emergencies where someone is at risk, call 111.

 - Stuff

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