More Community Support for Police to Deal with Mentally Ill

By Maureen Lu, Staff Writer

The summer morning of August 22, 2013, a 24 year old police officer, Bo Hao from Jiangsu Province, China, was killed by stabbing when he tried to get a mental disorder patient to hospital. The patient had showed violent intentions too before the police officer came. It was only ten days before Bo’s wedding.

The patient has been controlled and sent to a mental facility, and an investigation is in the progress. But nothing can bring back a son to the grieving parents, and a husband to his beautiful bride at the wedding.

Mental illness and substance abuse disorders have been described as constituting a global public health problem of enormous proportions. Nearly half of the population in developing countries at some point in their lifetime have experienced an anxiety, mood or substance abuse disorder.

Police officers are normally the first point of contact when somebody is experiencing a mental health disorder. During the mental crisis, people with mental illness can be a physical threat to themselves or others, doctors and social workers, or more commonly, the police officer who handles them at the first point of their mental crisis.

Police involvement, instead of mental health services, in dealing with extreme cases is less effective and can sometimes cause terrible situations. However, when the person in acute distress inclines to put himself or others in danger, especially in public, the likelihood of police involvement increases remarkably.

Independent Police Complaints Commission of Australia has found that police officers are frustrated that they receive very little training on mental health issues and the best strategies to use when called upon to deal with individuals experiencing mental distress and disorder.

It is not only the police or the on-the-site medical service staff who are in danger; risks and challenges also happen when the vulnerable mental disordered people face custody. To avoid further damaging, it is common for the police to adopt the use of force against people with mental illness. Fatal police shootings can sometimes happen when they are requiring an immediate judgement call.

Also, the number of deaths in police custody caused huge controversy. UK Independent Police Commission’s (IPCC’s) annual report in 2013 reveals some worrisome facts: deaths in police custody, as well as an increasing number of suicides of mentally ill individuals in the two days after release from policy custody. According to the report, 64 people took their own lives during 2012, two days after their release, over two thirds of which had history of mental illness.

Canadian police agencies recognized different demands on their resources and performance in interactions with persons with a mental illness as early as 1980s. The prevalence of mental illness in the communities means that police have to regularly encounter people with mental illness.

The Chief constable of the Vancouver Police Service, Chu, said that the police should not be the front-line on mental health issues. What we need to do is to shift from a point of dealing with crisis to preventing the crisis from occurring in the first place.

The communities need support from the government to enhance general education and training on responding to people who appear to be mentally ill. For the police force, introducing specialized training in relation to improve response to emergency situations is necessary.

Meanwhile, complementary 24/7 clinical support should be allocated to police officers in dealing with the mental disorders. A systematic approach was necessary to work cooperatively and collaboratively with other elements of the social service system, such as mental health and the wider criminal justice system.

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