A few months ago, I was asked if I would write a short piece for the College of Policing newsletter to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week. I never did get ’round to publishing it on the BLOG, so here it is, reproduced below. Remembering to do this now nicely coincides with another development for me personally, which involves the College of Policing —
From the start of September, I will be seconded from West Midlands Police to work for the College full-time on mental health issues. After more than three years of “mental health policing” not actually being my ‘job’ and my efforts to contribute to this being mainly via social media, I am about to start a full-time posting which involves me having the opportunity to focus upon nothing but this. Exactly what this role involves will emerge over coming weeks as I’m sure the College will have in mind a list of things they’ve been asked to do and the new ACPO lead on mental health, Commander Christine JONES from the Metropolitan Police will no doubt make her views known on this matter, too!
I couldn’t be more chuffed about all of this – and before publishing the newsletter piece below, I want to finish on a slightly naughty point, concerning something I said in 2011 as my previous posting on mental health came to an end. I had a strong conviction leading up to my return to operational policing that the profile of mental health issues within policing was still rising and that we were far from having sorted it all – very far from it. More and more forces were appointing mental health leads to drive this agenda, more senior officers were becoming interested in it. I had previously been seconded part-time to the College’s predecessor organisation, the National Policing Improvement Agency and saw for myself the efforts some police forces were beginning to put into this area of work and the extent to which a few were still sleep-walking. I had a strong feeling that there was still a lot more we could and should do and those ideas instead became the material you’ve read in this BLOG over the last three years. It was partly written so that when questions flew my way, I could point people to the BLOG rather than keep answering the same questions – a bit of self-preservation and demand management – but it was partly to outline how much further we all need to travel.
So in February 2011, with that sense of a job not yet done and with queries flying my way from around the country as new officers began the steep learning curve of being required to work on mental health without any training on the matter, I remarked to a former boss of mine that I thought I would keep being sucked back towards this work and that the phone would probably ring around August 2014 with an opportunity to get involved in this again because more needed to be done. It turns out I was wrong: but only by the small matter of eight hours!
So a very exciting new opportunity beckons me – to be a part of developing and updating training and guidelines within the College of Policing that will be used around England and Wales by all police forces and to support those forces, if required, in taking forward the increased focus that is now being given on policing and mental health. As this secondment was being negotiated, the College asked me to contribute to their newsletter and this is what I wrote —
COLLEGE OF POLICING NEWSLETTER
There is much to be said about policing and mental health that could improve the world. We could talk about fairness in health funding or how NHS services are commissioned and delivered. We could get extremely specific about place of safety services, ensuring a proper response to incidents in private premises or the difficulties encountered when managing vulnerable detainees who are also intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
However important all of that is, absolutely none of it – ultimately – is within our control and I have long since thought that whatever our view of our mental health system or wider NHS, there is much that individual police officers, individual police forces and now the College of Policing could do to improve our ability to manage demands connected to mental distress in society.
Three years of using social media to raise awareness of all things policing, mental health and criminal justice has taught me that most officers want knowledge and training on this.
Most of the questions I receive – dozens of them each week – are legal in nature:
- What powers do officers have, what are the responsibilities and powers of other professionals?
- What is it we could do and what is it we should do to ensure the safety and wellbeing of others without trespassing on the responsibilities of others?
The more I learned about mental health law, the easier it has become to police operationally – including in those situations where partnerships are not operating in an ideal way, for whatever reason. Even if the system doesn’t work perfectly, I understand how I can do the best that is possible to survive scrutiny with criticism.
We need knowledge – predominantly of the legal kind.
I would love to see the College of Policing develop a set of training products and resources that reflect the needs of all officers – mental health touches every area of policing, at every rank. Build our knowledge and thus our confidence to impact on this expanding area of business. The queries I receive come from response officers, custody sergeants, neighbourhood policing teams, investigators of all kinds from uniformed volume crime teams, to detectives and SIOs. They also come from inspectors, superintendents and ACPO officers about how to better structure partnership arrangements.
Duty inspectors and Force Incident Managers have particular needs, I would argue and I remain convinced that the United Kingdom needs training programmes of depths that reflect the complexity and the risks inherent in this work.
We also need to utilise technology to deliver support to decision-makers: internet resources, smart-phone apps with clear legal materials and it would be ground-breaking if the College of Policing could work on that material jointly with other professional colleges, including paramedics, social work and the medical/nursing Royal Colleges.
If the solutions are inter-agency, then the leadership and training needs to be too.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.