To the Tune of 500 Miles by the Proclaimers —
“I would write 500 blogs
And I might write 500 more
Just to be the man who’d wrote a thousand blogs.
On policing, mental health and law.”
500 BLOGS, but only really saying these same five things, over and over again in different ways —
- Police officers lack clinical qualifications beyond a basic first aid certificate and some of the clinical complexities we come across in mental health emergencies are way beyond our skill set – we need paramedics, consultants in emergency medicine and / or psychiatry as well as AMHPs, social workers and mental health nurses to get involved in help us get this right.
- No-one at the interface of policing and mental health seems to have sufficient legal knowledge to survive proper contact with it and I certainly include myself in that statement, as I’m making this up as I go. I have absolutely no qualifications whatsoever for anything I’ve spent the last decade banging on about so I could well be wrong about all manner of things on here!
- We are currently policing a twenty-first century, deinstitutionalised model of mental health care using laws that were conceived when British adults carried ration books and Buddy HOLLY sang live music – it remains my view that the the structure of our mental health services don’t always take account of the implications of our laws, which is a problem from whichever angle you view it.
- There has been a deliberate agenda over the last twenty years to deflect those in contact with mental health services into ever greater contact with the criminal justice system – and for a variety of different reasons. This is something we need to be careful about as well as something we need to be outraged about because no-one asked the criminal justice system to prepare itself – so it consequently didn’t.
- Finally, there needs to be far greater compulsion directed towards our public services – NHS and police alike – because it seems that no amount of deaths following contact or custody; no amount of children detained in jail for the crime of being ill or distressed; and no amount of human rights violations being noted seems capable of motivating sufficient change at sufficient speed.
There! – said it (again).
Not sure what else to say or how else I could re-write what I’ve already written over the last three and a half years. I’ve long since run out of any significant new ideas for this BLOG and I’m now just commenting on new reports, new cases and reminding us all (again) of things I’ve already said before. And if that sounds slightly weary, then it should – I’m genuinely quite bored by the sound of my own voice and I can type ‘psychiatric‘ without having to look at the keys or check the spelling! In the coming year, we will see a new MHA Code of Practice, which I don’t think will have a significant impact on the policing / mental health interface and we may see the Mental Health Act amended to take account of last year’s Government review. Whilst this will bring certain benefits that need to be welcomed, it would also bring practical problems because we know that NHS services are not currently positioned to deliver what the MHA review would require of them.
As I approached 100 BLOGS I started preparing to wind this all up – I wasn’t sure there was much more to say! Since then, new idea and developments as well as new reports and individuals cases mean that I’ve now written well over half a million words, helped in part by the fact that mental health as a subject within policing has become more prominent since I was first involved in it. To put that into some kind of context: half a million words is more than six PhD theses at my old university (I must getting ’round to doing a PhD) and far more words than is contained in War and Peace by Tolstoy, whether you read it in English or in Russian! It’s three posts a week, which does make me wonder what else I should be doing and we’re knocking on the door of the BLOG having been used 900,000 times in 175 countries around the world – we should hit the million mark by the time I go on holiday in May!
Writing this blog has been literally life-altering for me. It has taken me into rooms I never thought I’d get into and brought me to a new job where I actually now get to try and put my ideas into some kind of reality – all the things I’ve been banging on about for the last decade or more. Ironic, given that I started the BLOG in the first place because there was so much more to be said and done at the point where my last posting on mental health ended. But it was always my operational experience as a police officer that allowed me to see these issues from a certain angle so I’ve always been proud to be a frontline 999 response officer, having to deal with these issues day-to-day.
I’ve had various criticisms whilst writing this BLOG too. One man complained that it isn’t about mental health – it was never, ever intended to be. It was always about policing and how we could do it better – which means safer, faster, more humanely … better deciding how and on what terms the police become involved in responding to mental health crisis incidents. I’m not a mental health professional and never, ever will be.
So I’m grateful to the hundreds of people every day who take the time to read my stuff and I’m always grateful to learn the stories of where it has helped someone make an impact or overcome a problem: I only ever hoped that professionals would find it useful in their work. That members of the public have said they find it useful in understanding their rights and why public organisations do various weird and wonderful things when they’re interacting with each other around incidents involving those of us in distress, is an unexpected bonus, quite frankly but all the more surprising for all that.
So I mark and end this 500th BLOG by stating my largest current concern – perhaps this is something I need to learn and write more about? Some of the things we are doing to take us forward are in many respects taking us backwards – I am concerned about the extent to which our whole system’s approach to mental distress seeks to criminalise and coerce vulnerable people when that’s probably about the worst thing we could do – criminalising and coercing anybody rarely provides more than a short-term intervention, although it is occasionally required. We need to put humanity at the heart of our response to people in distress and bear in mind what Desmond TUTU said —
“Eventually, we need to stop pulling people out of the river, get upstream and work out why they’re falling in.”
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.