For some while, it has been suggested that the police service need to define what they mean by an incident being ‘mental health related’. You know those claims you’ve heard may times about how X percent of police demand or police time is connected to mental health related jobs? … well, it’s always been true that we’ve never been entirely consistent or sure of what we’re counting.
When I first ventured the 20% figure on this BLOG many years ago, I knew what I was counting: I’d been keeping tallies as a response inspector of things going on whilst I was at work and would often take a snapshot of –
- Detainees in custody flagged as having a mental health condition, or a warning marker for suicide or self-harm.
- What percentage of people who are currently reported missing are absent from mental health care or whilst suspected to be at risk of their mental state?
- Of all the 999 and 101 calls that land in a snapshot period (usually one or two hours), what percentage were in some what ‘mental health related’.
I was very clear that I was looking at police demand, not police time.
DEMAND v TIME
As the service became more interested in making similar claims, forces applied different terminology and definitions. One force said that something was a mental health incident if the officers or anyone else identifies any element of the job involves someone with mental health problems. Some forces gave percentage figures involving how much ‘demand’ was MH related, others said they thought a percentage of their ‘time’ was spent – you’ll notice those are two very different things!
Compare these two jobs –
- One officer deals with a man as a victim of crime who woke up to find his shed had been broken in to and his tools and lawnmower stolen. It takes them 1hr to complete the response, the handling and the paperwork.
- One murder investigation occupies 100 detectives for a week, then occupies 20 detectives for a further week, then 2 detectives for a further week, largely completing the paperwork for a full trial.
Two pieces of demand: vastly different amounts of time spent. Imagine if the shed burglary victim had mild depression, was cared for by their GP, with a low dosage of a common antidepressant and their depression was in no way, shape or form, the causal factor in the offence and nothing prevents them reporting their crime or even giving a statement.
Imagine the murder suspect was seriously mentally ill – sectioned shortly after arrest, interviewed and charged with the offence much later and then, at trial, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Are both incidents ‘mental health related’; or just the second of the two? I’d say just the second – the first incident is not about someone’s mental health in the way that a crisis incident is, and it doesn’t affect how the police responded to it. Their mental health condition is incidental. But to use the force’s definition, above – does anyone in this incident identify as having a mental health condition? Yes, but it’s a non-serious condition that isn’t relevant to the incident or its handling.
This post is part-consultation: I have to come up with a definition of a ‘mental health related’ police incident, for adoption by the police service as a whole and one which could be used the HMIC, the College of Policing and others to influence how policing and mental health is looked at, defined and delivered. We have undertaken some preliminary work with some forces who have already started looking at this, taken some feedback from outside the police and now have a draft definition on which we need opinions to see if it survives contact.
This effort is to make sure that we don’t over-medicalise responses, that we can gather data more consistently and then have a better understanding of how mental health conditions influence behaviours and needs that may require a police response. We don’t want to over-medicalise our response to people; we don’t want to over-criminalise vulnerable people either. It is argued that if we get this right, we’ll avoid both. So the definition below arises from some limited early discussion with some inside and outside the service who have had to think about this already where I’ve taken all their ideas with some of my own and slammed them together. To that extent, if I’ve ruined anyone else’s good ideas, I’m very sorry – my jobs is to reconcile the various competing interests in to something we can all live with.
Here goes! —
Mental Health Incident Definition —
“A policing incident is ‘mental health related’ if the primary purpose of any response is –
– A concern for the safety or welfare of someone, connected to a mental health condition*;
– Any disability hate crime where someone has been victimised because of their mental health condition;
– Any other kind of policing incident, including crime, where officers are responding to something which requires a reasonable or legal adjustment to be made in their handling of it because of someone’s mental health condition.
* Someone will be regarded as having a ‘mental health condition’ if the officers involved have any reason to think this may be the case or where this has been suggested in good faith by anyone else.”
Your thoughts on this are welcome.
Feedback in comments below, via Twitter (@mentalhealthcop) or on email to –
Winner of the President’s Medal,
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award
All opinions expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation.
(c) Michael Brown, 2019
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