During the course of attending call outs it is far from uncommon that we’ll encounter people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. These can range from mild conditions that hardly affect a person’s daily life all the way through to serious mental health issues that can put both the sufferer and others around him or her at risk. As police officers we are given extensive training on how best to address psychiatric problems and accumulate a great deal of experience in how best to get help to those who need it.
Mental health issues can come in all sorts of different forms and as such it is incredibly important that we’re able to identify the signs that indicate a person may be at risk.
This applies not only to potential offenders but also to victims and can affect how we deal with incidents, both where mental health issues and learning difficulties may play a part.
A witness with a learning difficulty, as an example, may not give the best standard of evidence through a written statement and so we can look to conducting a video interview instead to help strengthen their testimony.
More immediate mental health issues can be incredibly challenging to deal with and require a great deal of tact and sensibility when offering help to both the sufferer and those around him or her.
Whilst we always seek the co-operation of a person when finding the required help, we are backed up by a series of powers given to us under the Mental Health Act 1983 which amongst other things gives us the ability to detain someone so that they can be taken care of.
The specific power comes under Section 136 of the Act and affords us the ability to remove a person found in a public place and apparently suffering from a mental disorder to a ‘place of safety’ if we judge that they are in urgent need of care or control. The person can then be detained for a period of up to seventy-two hours during which they can be seen by a mental health professional who can make a diagnosis and put in place the necessary system of care.
The term ‘place of safety’ usually refers to a designated mental health hospital such as Dorothy Pattison, although in exceptional circumstances it can be a police station.
Section 136 is often used when people have approached us to indicate that they may self harm or commit suicide which, assuming they are in a public place, means they fall within the definition for the need of immediate care and control.
Once detained, a person will normally be seen by a panel of mental health officials who will seek to engage with the person and decide whether they require admission to a ward, medication, counseling or other options.
Further to our powers under Section 136, we also have additional powers to make welfare decisions on the behalf of someone who appears to lack the capacity to make them independently and also to remove a person from their own home on mental health grounds if it appears necessary to do so.
The first power is granted to us by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and means that if we think a mental health problems is preventing a person from making a decision affecting their welfare, to obtain medical treatment for a wound as an example, we can act to ensure that they receive the necessary treatment.
The second power, drawn from Section 135 of the Mental Health Act, allows us to obtain a warrant to enter a home and take measures to ensure that proper treatment is put in place for a person suffering a mental disorder.
Mental health issues are amongst some of the hardest we have to deal with and affect the suffer and all those around them. If you are concerned about a mental health issue affecting yourself or someone near to you there are a variety of organisations ready to help.
For more immediate issues you are able to contact the Walsall Crisis Team on 01922 644 535. The Crisis Team are a team of clinicians, nurses and social workers who are qualified to provide mental health support for people in crisis and work 24/7 providing coverage for the Walsall area.
In addition, the Samaritans are there around the clock is listen and can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90. You needn’t suffer alone and are likely to find that talking alone will help – a problem shared is a problem halved.
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