There is one thing that is very rarely talked about, and this is mental health and the police. I've never wanted to talk about it, because I felt ashamed that I'd even been involved with the police, because I always assumed that people would treat me differently, or even like a criminal. A lot of mentally unwell individuals end up being involved with the police. Before I started to become unwell, which started at around January 2015, I'd never been involved with the police before. I always thought that I'd never have to see them because of my mental health, but I couldn't have been more wrong!
The police can be called for a variety of reasons to do with your mental health. A few are:
running away; you may be a danger to yourself if you've run away and have mental health problems. the police will try and find you with the cars, but after a while, if you aren't found, they will get a helicopter and a police dog out.
crises; if you're having a serious mental health crisis, whether you're in the house or outside, the police may be called to try and calm you down. after that, they may contact the street triage team, take you to A&E, or section you.
if you refuse to go to A&E (& you need to); if for some reason an ambulance has been called, this may be due to self harm, an overdose or a suicide attempt, and you refuse to go, the police can be called. if you still refuse when the police arrive, they can forcefully take you to A&E.
if someone is really concerned about you; if a friend, family member or a member of the public is concerned for your welfare, they may ring the police to come and speak to you.
If you're in a public place and the police are concerned about you, they can detain you under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. This means they can take you to a place of safety; hospital, a 136 suite, or a police cell. You can be held for up to 72 hours, and you will be assessed by an AMPH (approved mental health professional) and two doctors. The AMPH will decide whether you need to be admitted to hospital or sent home. In some cases, the police can detain you under section 135 of the Mental Health Act, which is where you can be taken to a place of safety from a private property.
Unfortunately, not all police officers understand about mental health. I've gathered together two different people's experiences with the police, and also mine, which are shown below:
"The way people deal with you in a mental health crisis makes all the difference. Whether it's nurses, mental health professionals, or even the police. Well, mainly the police. I've had countless experiences with the police when in a crisis, normally when feeling suicidal. I've been dragged out my own home, dragged off sea walls, pinned down in hospital beds and so on. A lot of the time police are calm and understanding. They ask what's wrong and ask a couple of questions. Normally I'm then 136'd or if I've taken an overdose they take me to A&E. That's all good and well, when they deal with you like that. They are kind and considerate and do actually care. But sometimes you get the ones who really don't have a clue and push and shove and drag you about. I've been sworn at, shouted at, arrested for assault and wasting police time. When in actual fact when they looked into them both, I wasn't doing that at all. Some police need to learn how to handle mentally ill people in a crisis better, they need more training and guiding with what to do. Personally I'm always scared of the police as they have so much power over you, but honestly when you actually speak to them they are really kind people, they sometimes look beyond the role of being the police. You need kind and caring people to deal with you in a crisis."
"Suffice to say, police have saved my life on countless occasions. I do not think I would be alive today if the police had not got involved with me in times of mental health crises. Policing and mental illness has always been controversial. Not everyone thinks it helps. I can see when it doesn't, when there's an officer that doesn't understand, they think you're being attention seeking, or use excessive force to get you to do something. That can do more bad than good. I have friends who have been traumatised by their encounters with police whilst being ill. But I can think of more times, personally, when the police have been amazing with me. They have sat up all night in A&E with me whilst I've been sick, comforting me and keeping me safe from my own actions. Finding me lost and alone in the middle of a field and convincing me to reach out for help. Just coming round for a chat when someone's called them up, concerned for my welfare. I have been seconds from death and they have saved me so many times. I'll always be grateful for that. I do think police are needed at the moment for mental health patients. There isn't any other alternative out there at the moment."
"During my involvement with the police, I've met some lovely officers. Some have given me good advice, and I've even had 2 police officers visit me every week for a few weeks, just to see how I was. When I've been missing, officers have kept on texting me to try and calm me down, and convince me to reach out for help. Officers like this can be really helpful when you're in a mental health crisis - they make you feel as though someone actually cares. On the other hand, I've also met some police that aren't very nice, don't even try to understand, and make you feel as though you are wasting their time. The nicer police usually take their time to talk to you, to try and understand how you're feeling and what's happened to make you feel that way. I've been detained on a section 136 of the Mental Health Act twice. Both times, the officers I had with me were brilliant. I was told the second time that if I didn't walk in calmly, I'd be handcuffed, dragged in and put in a police cell until I was taken to the 136 suite. I liked how I was given the option, and it gave me time to think. However, some officers don't do this. There have been times where I've been told I'm an attention seeker and there are real emergencies out there. There have been times when I've been sworn at, restrained, thrown into police cars and arrested for wasting police time. Some police use excessive force, which can leave someone feeling traumatised. Police officers need more training in what to do if they are called out to an individual with mental health issues, as kindness can actually save someone's life. There have been times when police have saved my life, by coming out to find me when I've run off and attempted to take my own life. I will always be thankful to the police for helping me, however I'll never be able to forget my bad experiences with them."
The top 2 paragraphs were written by two 18 year old females, who both suffer from mental health problems and have been/currently are in mental health services, and the bottom one was written by me, As you can see, we've all had both good and bad experiences, which are different. I know there's a lot of bad stuff said about the police when they deal with mentally unwell people, and unfortunately it's true. Some officers just don't have the patience, and this can result in using excessive force, and generally making a person feel worse about themselves. However, the police aren't all bad, and there have been times when they've probably saved all 3 of our lives. I speak on behalf of the two other girls included in this post when I say we're all grateful for the nice police officers we've met. However, I think the bad experiences will always be embedded in our minds. Just a reminder of how the police aren't always nice and supportive when it comes to mental health.
So often we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to enjoy the journey.