Dealing with our Depression: who’s job is it any way?

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 27JAN10 - Cary Cooper, Prof...
Cary Cooper

With the sad news of Gary Speed‘s (apparent) suicide recently (see here), social networks were subsequently filled with posts and discussions on the topic of depression. Despite all of the science, social opinion, perception of fact and supposition, I don’t think anyone can truly understand what makes an individual take their own life…

Mental health is one of those subjects that for many, by its very nature, is usually difficult to get your head around (excuse the pun). But outside of the health profession, and the associated support services, the agency that interacts most with those suffering mental health issues is probably the police.

Mental Health Cop recalled in his blog recently, when writing about the subject in the early stages of his career; “It dawned upon me very quickly – I didn’t have a CLUE what I was doing with this stuff and neither did anyone else” (see here). In reply to one of his recent tweets I agreed with him in that it’s “an area of policing so misunderstood – both internally and by ‘partner’ agencies!”

But like many things in our society, the police are often called on as the agency of last resort, to deal with issues not sufficiently resourced by other relevant agencies. The ones who actually have the expertise and hold that remit. The overriding cause is usually a financial consideration, mostly due to budgetary constraint. Why provide ‘out of hours’ services when we can let the police ‘hold the fort’ until morning?

Many individuals with mental disorders come into contact with the police when they are in a public place and, it’s believed they may be in need of ‘immediate care and control’. In these circumstances individuals can be detained by police officers under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and taken to a place of safety. A place of safety is defined as ‘hospital, police station, mental nursing home or residential home or any other suitable place’.

These types of circumstances become an issue for police because, more often than not, the only ‘place of safety’ is in fact a police station. But, it has long been accepted by medical experts (and the police themselves) that; a police custody suite is not a ‘suitable’ place of safety. It has the effect of criminalising people who are in need of medical attention, can exacerbate their mental state, and in the most tragic cases can lead to deaths in custody.

Approximately half of all deaths in or following police custody involve detainees with some form of mental health problem…(Independent Police Complaints Commission)

Police custody suites should only ever be used as a ‘last resort’ – is a government policy that has been in place for the last twenty years or so. But once again words are cheep; when the required resources aren’t actually in place and the police ARE expected to deal with the issue, the ‘last resort’ will continue to result in problems, not least for the person suffering from the mental illness. Another case of the predominant inter-agency ‘ownership’ side-shuffle in the public sector.

For those looking to gain a better understanding of some of the issues impaction upon policing mental health I commend Mental Health Cop. And finally, as we continue headlong into this year’s festive period, a time when depression often materialises more than other times during the year; isn’t it time all these issues were finally and efectivley addressed?

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