One in five police calls in Norfolk now involves mental health
- Credit: Geraldine Scott
Around 20pc of police call outs in Norfolk now involve people with mental ill health, it has been revealed.
The rise has meant police have had to look at how new officers are trained and ensure they are given the right tools to deal with the rising demand.
But temporary Chief Inspector Lou Provart, who is head of custody at Norfolk Constabulary, said although demand had risen one of the purposes of policing had always been to protect life, and he said mental health situations were no different.
Speaking at a conference in Norwich on Wednesday which brought together a myriad of agencies involved in suicide prevention, T/Ch Insp Provart said: 'I've been a police officer for 19 years. In the 1990s our primary focus was delivering a response to serious crime.
'The change of focus has been significant and the demand from people who are in mental health crisis is daily. As a service we must be able to service a response to that, even if it's not a natural place for us to be.'
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T/Ch Insp Provart recently took on his custody role and said it was only in the most extreme circumstances that mentally ill people ended up in cells while waiting to be assessed.
Instead, they should be taken to safe places known as Section 136 suites, of which there are three in Norfolk. And Inspector Lucy King, who leads on mental health at the force, said it had been a year since anyone waiting for a mental health assessment had been kept in a cell.
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The conference, which was the second of its kind and was organised by Norfolk Public Health, aimed to bring together a variety of agencies to help prevent suicide.
The main message was that suicide was a complex problem which was not the responsibility of just one agency, so a collaborative approach was needed.
And that was reflected by the many organisations, charities, and national and international speakers who attended on the day.
During the conference opening senior coroner for Norfolk Jacqueline Lake said suicide rates in the county had been dropping since 2014.
Figures showed while there were 112 suicides in the county in 2014 there were 68 in 2017.
She added: 'But we do have people who come to Norfolk to take their own lives in the older population. The evidence showed they had been to Norfolk during their younger years and have fond memories of Norfolk so came here to die.'
Sessions were also held by organisation Harmless, who work in self harm. Harmless training team leader Sarah Kessling said it was important to move away from the stereotype that only young girls self harmed.
And Revd Chris Copsey, who was at one time the only coroner's chaplain, delivered a session on suicide bereavement.
Other experts came from as far afield as Glasgow and Brighton.
Diane Steiner, deputy director of Public Health in Norfolk said: 'The latest data shows a reduction in the number of suicides in Norfolk which is clearly a positive step. However, the rate of people dying by suicide in Norfolk is still higher than the national average and there remains much to be done. The learning event has been a great way to bring together all the support services and experts to share what is being done in the region with the overall aim of reducing the number of suicides in Norfolk even further.'
Professor Rory O'Connor, director of she suicidal behaviour research laboratory at the University of Glasgow, shared his findings on suicidal behaviour. He said: 'I am delighted to be in Norfolk to share our latest research into understanding and preventing suicide. It is also great to see such a diverse range of delegates share their experiences of what works to prevent suicide as it is only through working together that we will continue to drive the suicide rate down.'
Several new initiatives were launched at the event including the innovative smartphone app Stay Alive. Successfully rolled out in other areas of the country, it can be used by people having thoughts of suicide, or by those concerned about someone else who may be considering suicide.
A workplace health initiative is also launching to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of employees working in the construction sector and associated trades. An additional provision of targeted training and support was also announced aimed at education settings and people working with high risk and vulnerable people.