Revealed: Police deal with nearly 5,000 mental health-related calls a year in Suffolk
The pressure mental health emergencies put on modern policing has been laid bare by statistics which show officers in Suffolk recieve nearly 5,000 calls a year about incidents relating to psychological wellbeing.
Chief Inspector Nigel Huddlestone, from the force’s control room, said incidents relating to mental health now form a “significant part of our day to day work” after figures showed the constabulary received 4,792 calls about such incidents in 2019.
That equates to about 13 a day, with the force placing a mental health practitioner in the control room in recent years to ensure such calls are dealt with in the right way.
But Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said the number of mental health-related calls the constabulary receives “is of concern, as police officers are not mental health professionals”.
He said that “whilst they will always be there to help anyone in difficulty, this is not the best use of their time” - with Suffolk Police Federation chairman Darren Harris adding that officers are “not always the best qualified” to deal with such incidents.
Mr Passmore believes there needs to be a “concerted and long-term multi-agency approach” to ensure other services help to share the burden.
However, he warned: “I think the demand for mental health support in society is, sadly, likely to increase in Suffolk, due to the effects of the pandemic as well as an ageing population.”
Mr Harris said officers are “often the first port of call in such situations” and ultimately cannot say “no”, particularly if the incident is after working hours or at the weekend.
“Policing is often not the right public service for these calls,” Mr Harris said.
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“I think the rise is linked to cuts in the health sector, to the mental health trusts and in the community.
“Ultimately, we are here to preserve life and protect but police officers are not always the best qualified to attend.
“There is training around mental health for officers but I would say it’s not on par with CPR or first-aid.
“If someone is in the middle of a mental health crisis, it’s a complex issue where a number of things could happen.”
Ch Insp Huddleston added: “Suffolk Constabulary regularly assesses and reviews the impact that mental health demand has on our already stretched police resources.
“We are continually working to gain a better understanding of the demand we face in this area.
“Our officers strive every day to protect the vulnerable, often in difficult and complex situations on the frontline, working with our health partners to ensure people receive the treatment and support they need.
“As well as our triage service in the control room, we also have mental health nurses accompanying officers in some response vehicles, and we also provide on-going officer training.
“We continue to work closely with our partners in the mental health community at a local and regional working group level as well as at a national level, in line with our mental health action plan.
“It is only through a collective effort will we make sure that those who need mental health support receive the very best service possible.”
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