8 Apr 2014

Mental health 111 calls jump

7:35 pm on 8 April 2014

Police say they are dealing with a big rise in the number of phone calls related to mental health issues, and threatened or attempted suicides.

Assistant Commissioner Dave Cliff says the 111 calls are proving time-consuming and demanding for police.

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Photo: PHOTO NZ

Mr Cliff says although police can deal with crises, they do not have a particular expertise in mental health, and the increase in calls is significant.

He says a typical mental health call takes more than two hours to deal with, and an attempted or threatened suicide about two and a-half hours.

Police are doing everything they can to reduce the call volume, but a lot of resources are being used to deal with them, he says.

"They've been going up very consistently for the last 10 years so we're now dealing with 24,000 calls in those areas each year. It's a significant increase. They're time consuming incidents requiring two staff and sometimes a supervisor needs to be brought in.

"What we've really noticed is that our rural officers in particular are being called to these incidents as a first responder so there's a time in terms of getting to a location to give someone help, then there's the transportation of people who need to go off for assessment or medical treatment, so it's definitely time-consuming for police."

The assistant commissioner says between 1M (mental health) & 1X (attempted or threatened suicide) calls the increases are varied.

"There are a greater increase around threatened and attempted suicide in mental health but the figures range between 5 percent and 10 percent. But it's not even, so in some parts of the country it's going up at a greater rate than other parts.

"These are all things we're starting to work through to look at what the picture's telling us about where it's happening, when it's happening, when people call us on more than one occasion and the frequent presenters."

Work with Health Ministry

Mr Cliff says police are working with the Ministry of Health and its director, John Crawshaw, to look at what's driving the increases.

"We're looking at what can we do to help, how can we better manage it, how can we better work with partners.

"Policing really deals with crises that happen on a 24/7 basis, that's what we're really set up to do. we don't have a particular expertise in health so we're trying to better educate our people to deal with incidents involving this type of thing, but we're certainly doing everything we can to try and reduce the volumes that are coming through to us.

"There is definitely a common thread that's coming through from our people in terms of a universal. They're noticing the increase, they're conscious of it and they really want to be able to do something about it."

Mr Cliff says police have done some early research to try and quantify on average how long is it taking to deal with the calls.

"A typical mental health call is taking over two hours to deal with and your typical attempted or threatened suicide is taking longer, in the range of about two-and-a-half hours; so they are time-consuming, they're demanding and they really require all the skills that we have available to deal with them.

"Where people have to travel further or the person has to be pyschiatrically assessed the travel time for our people can also be really demanding and often requires, or almost always requires a couple of people to do the transport."

Waikato DHB pilot

Director of clinical services for mental health addiction services at Waikato District Health Board, Rees Tapsell, says the board realises police are not the right people to be responding to those who are distressed or suicidal.

Mr Tapsell believes the police's workload is too high and the DHB has been doing work with police to understand how best to respond to them.

He says it's set up a pilot scheme to try working together to better respond to people's needs and reduce the workload placed on police that should be going to mental health services.

The Mental Health Foundation says police need more training to deal with the rise.

Chief executive Judi Clements says police are often the first on the scene and can diffuse situations but while they have basic training in helping people with mental health issues more is needed.

Ms Clements says protocols need to be improved between police and district health boards so the same approach is taken across the country.

She says the sort of response should not depend on where a person lives, and the health service must be included.