By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News
While mental illness has been topic of conversation in many healthcare circles in London, it was on the tips of police officers tongues Thursday (Dec. 15). During a London Police Service Board meeting, Deputy Chief Ian Peer said what the police aren’t going to do about the many 911 calls received regarding people having a mental health crisis is get more involved.
“This is a health care issue that cannot be resolved to any measure of success by the police, regardless of their training or approach,” he said. “If you’re really looking at patient-centred care, what is best for them, not what is best for a broken health care system, it’s not having the police go.”
While Peer said statistics are being compiled on how many mental health calls are the police receive, he used a study in Vancouver to further his point, saying the figures from both cities are comparable.
Over a 16-day period in 2007, 31 per cent of the 1,154 service calls received by the Vancouver Police Department involved at least one person who was believed to be suffering from poor mental health to the extent that a police response was required. In total, 1,744 arrests were made under the Mental Health Act.
“We are not far behind that statistic,” Peer said. “For me, the one part in their report where we are very close to that I know is the amount of time that we apprehend somebody under the Mental Health Act.”
He noted many of the people arrested under the act aren’t involved in criminal offenses, but are rather having a mental crisis. Peer added that shows community-based treatments can hardly be described as a success.
“If you’re ill and you need to talk to someone about your mental health issue, why on earth would the police come and want to talk to you,” he said. “You want to talk to someone who’s a mental healthcare provider.”
Peer argued the problem is in the community. He said if a call is responded to after-hours, the police station and a hospital emergency room are the only places open.
A solution to the problem of police responding to mental health issues, Peer said, would come from around the 35-40 community mental health service providers working together.
“The problem we have is in the community: Everybody is siloed,” he said. “If your community providers of mental health services got together, were integrated in their approach and said, ‘This weekend it’s our weekend’.
“So if the police deal with somebody, maybe they bring them there.”
Peer explained that if community-based mental health services functioned together as a 24-hour, one-stop shop for people looking to access to care, the police’s involvement with health issues would decline.
This kind of co-operation and collective approach is something the South West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) has been looking at for some time. In fact, the organization facilitated meetings in early January between four area community-based mental health service providers. These organizations are the Canadian Mental Health Associations in Oxford and Elgin counties and London-Middlesex, as well as the Forest City-based Western Ontario Therapeutic Community Hostel (WOTCH).
That was summarized in a report was presented to the South West LHIN board last month, which offered a snapshot of the current environment for community-based mental health care. It also showed some areas that are in need of investments and improvements.
“The report provides the basis for a number of integration opportunities amongst providers because we have a number of providers of community mental health and addictions services across our LHIN,” said Michael Barrett, CEO of the South West LHIN. “We’re looking at them to improve the way they work as a network.”
One of the 49 recommendations from the report was to look at how existing organizations work together. Barrett noted the LHIN board also needs to define clear terms of reference about how the groups will work together.
While Peer said that sounds great, he expressed concern about resolving the problem of police being engaged in mental health crises.
“I am very thankful that we have a LHIN that’s engaged. But, here’s the problem: I could heat this building burning the reports that have been written over the 20 years about how the mental health system is broken,” he said. “Frankly, it has been allowed to limp along so poorly for so long because we’ve sort of gotten engaged.”
Two solutions offered by the police board were that if an agreement were signed between the police and area-hospitals, officers could drop off people suffering from mental illnesses or addictions at the facilities without staying to supervise. The other solution was to push for the creation of a crisis response team to respond to mental health-related emergency calls.
These will be discussed at a later police board meeting.