Mental health workers to go on-call with police

Signal of change / Mental health workers to go on-call with police

By Will Ingram / 14 Jan 2016

As of January 2016, police officers in Western Australia who are called out to emergencies relating to mental illness will be joined by mental health workers.

Nurses, psychologists, social workers and therapists will be trained in police response, complementing 20 police officers who will receive training in defusing mental health crises, for a trail in the New Year.

These new teams will help deal with the increasing number of self-harm and substance-abuse related operations in the state. Currently, mentally ill people during crises tend to end up in a police van and are taken to an emergency ward. Police officers need to accompany them throughout.

Police in the state got called out to more than 17,000 mental health-related situations over the last year, of which 70% involved self-harm. The number of incidents has tripled in the last 10 years.

This measure follows proposals in June for nurses to be given special policing powers, such as being able to stop and search someone.

Image credit: Mark Hillary / Flickr

So what?

Mental Health Minister for the state Helen Morton said a "better police response" would "decriminalise" mental illness.

Not only does this new policy have the potential to maximise the efficiency of care, it could also give a much higher quality of care to those with specific needs.

According to the WHO, one in four of the world’s population will suffer from some form of mental disorder during their lives, and around 450 million people are currently experiencing such conditions. More than 40% of countries have no mental health policy, yet suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people worldwide.

As Kathleen Pike et al. write in the journal Public Health Reviews, “A healthier 2020 depends on […] increasing capacity and developing a workforce that is prepared to address the mental heath needs of a progressively urban and aging global populations”.

As this issue grows, integrating healthcare and justice facilities may be one step towards this aim.

Sources (December 14, 2015), Mental health workers to join police on call outs in world-first trial

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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